In Memory Of R.L. Boyce

In Memory Of R.L. Boyce

This article is dedicated to the memory of R.L. Boyce, who recently passed two weeks ago. (November 9th, 2023)

The roots of hill country blues music took hold in close-knit African American communities just south of Memphis in North Mississippi. From the Civil War era until the 1970s, these communities saw the flourishing of African American traditional fife and drum bands. These bands, characterized by a cane fife player leading three marching drums and a distinctive dance, became a popular form of entertainment for the region, performing at social events like picnics, weddings, and funerals.

R.L. Boyce, a lifelong resident of Como, Mississippi, was born into this rich fife and drum tradition. His uncle, Othar Turner of the Rising Stars Fife and Drum Band and a 1992 NEA National Heritage Fellow, played a significant role in shaping Boyce's musical journey. Turner initiated an annual family picnic called the GOAT Picnic, where local musical talents like the Young Family, R.L. Burnside, Fred McDowell, and Jessie Mae Hemphill would gather and perform.

Boyce's entry into music occurred during his teenage years when, inspired by watching his uncle perform at a picnic, he decided to become a musician. At the age of 15, he joined the Rising Stars Fife and Drum Band as a drummer and remained a member for three decades until Turner's passing in 2003.

In the 1980s, spurred by a challenge from fellow Mississippi musician Luther Dickinson, Boyce transitioned to the guitar. His Hill Country boogie style, characterized by simple, repetitive trance music, reflects both traditional roots and contemporary elements. Boyce, proud of his unique style, states, "There are a lot of good blues players out there. But see, I play the old way and nobody today can play my style, just me."

With a musical career spanning over half a century, Boyce shared stages with blues legends like John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf. He served as the drummer for and recorded with Jessie Mae Hemphill. His second solo release, "Roll and Tumble," garnered a Grammy Award nomination in 2018. Boyce's contributions to the North Mississippi blues tradition have been recognized globally, as seen in his appearances at international festivals and documentaries like Daniel Cross' "I Am The Blues."

In addition to his musical achievements, Boyce preserved and promoted his heritage. He hosted the RL BOYCE Picnic, a three-day music event held over Labor Day weekend in Como, Mississippi. This gathering included activities such as a music workshop, guided tour, and family picnic, and the celebration of Boyce's music and traditions.

The passing of RL Boyce is a loss to the hill country blues community and music enthusiasts who appreciated his authentic contributions. He was one of the final links to the traditions of North Mississippi blues. His legacy will live on through his recordings and the influence he had on those who had the privilege of hearing and learning from him.

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