Dr. Joe Berryman spent his life and career involved with high school, college and professional bands as a musician, composer, instructor, and conductor, as well as, a product representative and developer for several musical instrument manufacturers. After moving to Mississippi, he served as the band director at Itta Bena High School before coming to USM where he became coordinator of the band staff and taught percussion and orchestration. Berryman also worked with the Mississippi Lions All-State Band for well over a decade as director, writing much of the music, himself. At the time this interview was recorded in July of 1972, the band had won first prize at the Lion’s International Convention five of the last six years.
In this episode, Berryman discusses his early life and career. He was ten years old in 1914, when his family moved from Texarkana to Meridian. He recalls shipping their automobile and furniture by train because there were no highways. When he decided to become a musician, his parents wouldn’t pay for music lessons because they didn’t think he was serious. He remembers earning the money by selling magazines and taking the lessons in secret.
In the age of silent movies, musicians would provide live music to match the action on the screen. Berryman describes playing in the orchestra pits of the movie theaters in Kansas City. In addition to showing motion pictures, movie palaces of the day also booked live entertainment. He shares his memories of working the vaudeville houses in Topeka and providing sound effects for a hot-tempered comedian.
PODCAST BONUS: When he was not playing theaters in the 1920s, Berryman travelled with several tents shows around the Midwest. Known as chautauquas, these shows were intended to bring cultural enlightenment to isolated rural communities.
PHOTO: USM Archive
Most people have heard of Leontyne Price, but there was another talented soprano from Mississippi, whose name is not so well known. That is because Kathleen Roberts Striegler chose to move to Germany in the late 1960s to pursue a career in opera, where some sixty state-funded opera companies provided steady income for professional singers.
Born in Hattiesburg in 1941, Striegler began studying music in Jackson, Mississippi, at young age. In this episode, she recalls her decision to move to Europe and become an opera singer. When Striegler arrived in Switzerland to study at the International Opera Center, she faced many challenges, like learning to speak German and how to make a living while getting established. She describes some of the highs and lows she experienced before finding a home in Darmstadt.
When she sat down to be interviewed by us in 1973, Striegler was a soprano with the State Opera House in Darmstadt, West Germany. She explained how the government supported the sixty opera companies that existed there, then. For Striegler, success as a professional opera singer required a clear-eyed assessment of the voice she’d been given. She discusses finding happiness as a Mississippi soprano in Germany.
PHOTO: Darmstadt Staatstheater By: Andreas Praefcke - Own work (own photograph), CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14606479
Ocean Springs native Jai Johnny Johanson got his first big break as a professional drummer in 1966 when he joined Otis Redding's band. Over the next couple of years, he played for several big names including Percy Sledge, Joe Tex, Johnny Jenkins and Clarence Carter, but by 1968, found himself struggling to make ends meet. Johanson was about to leave the south and move to New York to pursue a career in Jazz when he heard of a young guitar player named Duane Allman, looking to form a new band. The two men were soon joined by bassist Barry Oakley and that trio would serve as the foundation for the Allman Brother Band.
In this episode, Johanson shares his memories of that time including the phone call he got from Cadillac Henry about joining Otis Redding’s band. He recalls going to see Percy Sledge at the Apollo and how he got the nickname, Jaimoe. Finally, he discusses what made Duane Allman such an exceptional musician and the legacy of the Allman Brothers Band.
Photo Credits: Carl Vernlund
Art Cissell became a professional drummer in St. Louis during the Big Band Era. In this episode, he remembers the St. Louis music scene of the 1930s & 40s. Cissell began drumming at the age of five when his father gave him a real snare drum to pass the time while quarantined with the measles. He joined his first Big Band in 1936 at the age of 16. Cissell describes working full time during the day and playing the drums, nights and weekends.
Even though the country was racially segregated during the Big Band Era, musicians often crossed color lines to play together. Cissell recalls sitting in with some of the most famous musicians of the day and playing the St. Louis Harlem Club until the sun came up.
After years of playing in Big Bands, Cissell took a job at Keesler Air Force Base as an electronics instructor. He recounts how he and other Gulf Coast musicians formed The Star Dusters in 1968.
Photo: Cab Calloway, FSU World Music Online.