November 9, 2013 8:56:46 PM
I like to brag about local talent. It seems that Mississippi has more creative people than any other state. OK, I haven't done the research. But as an opinion columnist I'm allowed a bit of hyperbole.
When my husband and I landed in Columbus, we were blown away by the amazing skills of fiddle prodigy Ruby Jane Smith. We attended every concert that she gave locally and recorded all her television appearances. This remarkable young lady was still a child when she was discovered. At age 10, she became the youngest fiddler invited to play at the Grand Ole Opry.
Now, she has moved on to a larger stage, performing with big names like Willie Nelson, Blues Traveler and Asleep At The Wheel, to name just a few. But she has also moved away from our state as well. Now, we may be lucky enough to catch her performing on an occasional TV show. Her star rose rapidly. Ruby Jane no longer lives in Columbus.
Another favorite is Big Joe Shelton. He is a singer/musician and songwriter from the Black Prairie. His music has fans all over the world. While researching this column I found accolades for Big Joe written in languages that I could not read, like German and Japanese. It's a wonder that we still have this fantastic talent in Mississippi.
Our own Tennessee Williams-inspired dynamo, Brenda Caradine, has done so much to promote the work of America's greatest playwright in his first hometown. She is a tireless, unpaid advocate, chairing the annual Tennessee Williams Tribute.
Brenda has produced many of Williams' plays here, not always to local acclaim and acceptance. "Kingdom of Earth" was "controversial in Columbus, its impoliteness disappointing. E-mails circulated protesting Williams' objectionable language" (Provincetown Arts, volume 28).
Recently, Brenda, along with two other experts of theater and live performance, was asked to adjudicate three plays at the Alabama Conference of Theatre. "It was an exciting 'theater adventure' to go to another state and come back with ideas to apply to the structure and board of the Tennessee Williams Tribute," Brenda told me. "I was asked to give a workshop to other theater professionals about how our festival works and the plays we present in Columbus. The real treat for me -- as a theater buff -- was to see a weekend of live, great performances!"
I keep thinking about the Irving Berlin song, "He's A Devil In His Own Home Town" (circa 1914). It seems that our most talented people -- whether musicians, writers, or impresarios, like Brenda Caradine -- are not truly appreciated in their "own hometown." The entire world may shower them with accolades, honors and rave reviews. Still, they often remain undervalued locally, in respect, as well as in financial reward.
I suppose it is a bit sad that real talent has to move away to be "discovered" and truly esteemed.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.