Louisiana folklorist and Mississippi blues musician among 2023 National Heritage Fellows

Sep 22, 2023, 9:01 PM

This image provided by Tulane University shows Nick Spitzer, host of the weekly public radio music ...

This image provided by Tulane University shows Nick Spitzer, host of the weekly public radio music and cultural program, American Routes, in his studio at Tulane University in New Orleans on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. The show is celebrating “25 Years on the Road” in September, and Spitzer is being honored at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 29. (Rusty Costanza/Tulane University via AP)

(Rusty Costanza/Tulane University via AP)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana folklorist Nick Spitzer and Mississippi blues musician R.L. Boyce are among nine 2023 National Heritage Fellows set to be celebrated later this month by the National Endowment for the Arts, one of the nation’s highest honors in the folk and traditional arts.

Spitzer and Boyce are scheduled to accept the NEA’s Bess Lomax Hawes National Heritage Fellowship, which includes a $25,000 award, at a Sept. 29 ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The Hawes award recognizes individuals who have “made a significant contribution to the preservation and awareness of cultural heritage.”

Spitzer, an anthropology professor at Tulane University’s School of Liberal Arts, has hosted the popular radio show “American Routes” for the past 25 years, most recently from a studio at Tulane in New Orleans. The show has featured interviews with Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, Fats Domino and 1,200 other figures in American music and culture.

Each two-hour program reaches about three quarters of a million listeners on 380 public radio stations nationwide.

“’American Routes’ is my way of being inclusive and celebratory of cultural complexity and diversity through words and music in these tough times,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer’s work with roots music in Louisiana’s Acadiana region has tied him to the state indefinitely. He founded the Louisiana Folklife Program, produced the five-LP Louisiana Folklife Recording Series, created the Louisiana Folklife Pavilion at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans and helped launch the Baton Rouge Blues Festival. He also is a senior folklife specialist at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington.

Spitzer said he was surprised when told he was a recipient of the Hawes award.

“I was stunned,” Spitzer recalled during an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s nice to be recognized. I do it because I like making a contribution to the world.”

Boyce is a blues musician from the Mississippi hill country. His northern Mississippi approach to playing and song structures are rooted in the past, including traditions centered around drums and handmade cane fifes. Yet his music is uniquely contemporary, according to Boyce’s bio on the NEA website.

“When I come up in Mississippi, there wasn’t much. See, if you saw any opportunity to survive, you grabbed it. Been playing Blues 50 years. Playing Blues is all I know,” Boyce said in a statement.

“There are a lot of good blues players out there,” he added. “But see, I play the old way, and nobody today can play my style, just me.”

Boyce has played northern Mississippi blues for more than half a century. He has shared stages with blues greats John Lee Hooker, a 1983 NEA National Heritage Fellow, and Howlin’ Wolf. He also was the drummer for and recorded with Jessie Mae Hemphill.

The other 2023 heritage fellows are: Ed Eugene Carriere, a Suquamish basket maker from Indianola, Washington; Michael A. Cummings, an African American quilter from New York; Joe DeLeon “Little Joe” Hernandez, a Tejano music performer from Temple, Texas; Roen Hufford, a kapa (bark cloth) maker from Waimea, Hawaii; Elizabeth James-Perry, a wampum and fiber artist from Dartmouth, Massachusetts; Luis Tapia, a sculptor and Hispano woodcarver from Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Wu Man, a pipa player from Carlsbad, California.

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Louisiana folklorist and Mississippi blues musician among 2023 National Heritage Fellows