‘Rising Star’ Shardé Thomas Brings Vocals & Fife Tradition to Centrum

Famed fife player Otha Turner—who founded the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band— loved telling the story of how his granddaughter Shardé Thomas simply strode up to him one day, grabbed a cane, and began blowing into it. Within a few years, Thomas was filling in at recording sessions and performing with Rising Star at picnics.

Thomas is now an American singer and fife player in her own right within the vanishing American fife and drum blues tradition. She still makes her fifes by hand out of cane, hollowing it out with a heated metal rod—just as Turner did. These days she usually calls the band “Rising Stars” because, she says, that’s what they are. They play functions in and around her native Sardis, Mississippi—including the annual goat roast and music festival at Turner’s old place in nearby Gravel Springs—as well as festivals and workshops all over the country.

We’re excited to welcome Shardé to the 2019 Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Workshop, where she’ll be teaching blues vocals. Her richly textured voice carries an irresistible buoyancy, which makes “Little Sally Walker” (an old children’s ring-game song that she’s been singing virtually all her life) a highlight of her shows. She’s also developed into an impressive hand drummer—she plays galvanizing polyrhythms on traditional material as well as on rock ‘n’ roll numbers such as “Bo Diddley” (a favorite when she sits in with the North Mississippi Allstars).

Her debut album, released in 2010, was titled What Do I Do, and her sophomore album, titled Shawty Blues, was released in 2013. Thomas has worked with greats like Eric Clapton, Bobby Rush, Cyndi Lauper, Mavis Staples, The Wandering, The North Mississippi All-Stars, and many others.

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