My old pal and collaborator Vertamae Grosvenor has died. I didn’t keep in touch with her after our work on Nyam, but that was a great experience. It was a folk opera she had written about African-American foodways. She had performed it once before with her son-in-law, jazz singer/bassist Oscar Brown III, doing the music. But when she came to Oxford, Miss., in 1999 to perform it at the Southern Foodways Symposium, Brown had died. I had a couple days to work with her and turn it into a blues opera. She narrated, and I sang and played the music — some traditional spirituals and folk songs that she had used in the work before, and some food-related blues that I added. It was a smash hit, the grand finale of the conference. We were invited to perform it again at Copia: the Center for Food, Wine and the Arts in Napa, Calif. There is a tape of it available through Copia, maybe I have a copy.
She had a very interesting cultural life beside that — writing Geechee cookbooks and bringing that term into common use; designing costumes for Sun Ra and commentating about food on NPR, living the bohemian life in Paris and New York and always keeping her Lowcountry South Carolina black culture at the forefront.