Before it went north from the Mississippi Delta to go electric in Chicago, before it had a baby named Rock ‘n Roll, long before it came out of fields, cabins, shanties and Saturday night juke joints, and much longer before Bob Dylan revisited Highway 61, the origins of the blues were carried by enslaved people from West Africa to the New World in ships.
“To know yourself you have to know the past,” says Corey Harris, a young musician in Martin Scorsese’s monumental study of the music, “The Blues,” a seven-part series originally broadcast by PBS in 2003.
Mr. Harris’s statement of locating your identity sums up a weekend Sylvester Manor is presenting in conjunction with Black History Month. Continuing its series of events to rediscover and celebrate the Manor’s history and contributions to Shelter Island, the first part of Mr. Scorsese’s series, “Feel Like Going Home,” will be screened at the Shelter Island Library, in partnership with the Manor, on Friday, February 27 at 7 p.m., as part of the Friday Night Dialogues program.
A panel discussion will follow the screening on the legacy of the blues, an art form that gave birth to American music in almost all its forms, from jazz to show tunes to rock and hip hop, and is heard and revered in every corner of the world.
Continuing the Manor’s weekend program will be a “Burying Ground Remembrance” on Saturday, February 28 at 11 a.m. at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, a tribute to indentured, enslaved and freed people who lived, worked and died at the Manor and were buried there, unrecognized.
Contributing to the ceremony will be African and Native American drumming, songs, poetry and prayers. In attendance at the Burying Ground Remembrance will be Colvin “Wolfman” Cumberbatch, a drummer and educator who is a native of Barbados and now a resident of the East End.
“Sylvester Manor is a tangible place to go and resolve issues of identity, as Africans and as West Indian Africans,” Mr. Cumberbatch said. “It’s a specific place that links directly to the mysteries of the past and the uncertainty of our origins. I embrace the Manor for opening up the space, making it available for anyone with these questions.”
Martin Scorsese’s film is a banquet of treats for lovers of American music and those with a serious or casual interest in American history.
Using the young musician Mr. Harris as a guide, the film goes from the cradle of the Mississippi Delta to Mali in West Africa, tracing the blues to its source.
Along the way there are brilliant contemporary performances, vivid archival films and images of the legends of the music, including Robert Johnson, the mythic figure of the Delta Blues who never stayed in one spot too long because, as one of his songs says, he had a “hellhound on my trail.”
Johnson, who lived to be only 27 and left behind only a handful of songs and just two photographs of himself, has influenced countless musicians, including a young Eric Clapton, who mesmerized a generation — and generations to follow — with a blistering solo in his cover of Johnson’s “Crossroads.”
Music and Sylvester Manor are increasingly becoming a happy marriage, said Historic Preservation Coordinator Maura Doyle.
“Burying Ground Remembrance” will, by remembering the Manor as a plantation and now a working farm, “honor a tradition that came out of slave culture,” Ms. Doyle said.
She invited all to attend the film at the library on Friday, February 27 and the burying ground ceremonies at the Presbyterian Church the following day to “celebrate the true founders of the town, those who cleared the paths to create the environment that became Shelter Island.”
“The Blues: Feel Like Going Home,” Friday Night Dialogues at the Library, Friday, February 27 at 7 p.m.
Burying Ground Remembrance, Saturday, February 28, Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, 11 a.m.