Several years ago when Silver Spring, MD story-lover Laura Hagmann was driving back from the annual October National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, she realized she wanted more storytelling in her life than just a once a year feast. Since then she has hosted occasional storytelling concerts in her home as a gift to herself and to her friends. Last night, Massachusetts storyteller Judith Black was the featured performer.
Once Hagmann shifts furniture and sets up chairs, her living room and connecting dining room become a welcoming theater. Friday evening a 40-strong congenial group gathered and enjoyed delicious potluck snacks. In this setting, lively conversations served as the “opener.” By the time Black took the stage the group was ready for her story.
Judith Black, a national storyteller, is known for her stunning ability to bring history to life when she creates a piece of historical fiction. At the outset she explained that the story tonight is a preview of a commissioned work that will be premiered in “about a week.”
Collierville, Tennessee commissioned Black to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Collierville Battle in 1863 during the War Between the States. She has created the story from legend, real history, letters, and her own intense research. Judith took those threads and knit them into a compelling story. Black told the audience she is the Yankee telling the story that, to my mind, makes her knowledge of the southern characters, their lives and history more impressive. She understands the emotional turf of her characters and uses small details of their daily lives to bring them to life.
Last night I was the Southerner listening to the Yankee tell the Collierville story, and I applaud her sensitivity to many of the issues, personal and political, which played a role in that time. From today’s vantage point, I particularly appreciated the way Black included the character of Maggie, the family slave, and portrayed her touching story – one that is often over-looked.
Using her voice effectively along with emotional facial expressions, Judith Black creates the characters. Her storytelling gives the audience touching images of the hardships of the battlefield, the painful injuries and losses of battle, sickness, and hunger. When she tells the story of the Collierville Battle she makes the most of the unexpected appearance of Yankee General William Tecumseh Sherman – who thwarted the Collierville Rebels in their battle plan.
I am mesmerized from the first notes of her opening song. When Blackcloses her story the room erupts into sustained applause in appreciation for this vivid trip to the past.
Storytelling is such a wonderful art form, and when it’s good it works anywhere! And Judith Black is really good!
Judith Black’s website.