Otha Turner upheld the fife & drum tradition in North Mississippi, the last surviving master, in one of the last regions for the style. A sharecropping Mississippi native who started playing around 1923, Turner made his fife out of rivercane (American bamboo) and taught himself several instruments, including guitar and percussion.
He led some bands, including one with Jesse Mae Hemphill, and became a sought-out figure in documentation of the tradition. Indeed, several field recordings were made and a few articles were written about Turner and his regional traditional style. His group even appeared on an episode of Mr Rogers Neighborhood in 1982. His first appearance on a proper album came with the Como Drum Band, for an Arhoolie compilation of Mississippi blues, released in '69.
He played the Chicago Blues Festival several times and recorded a few albums in the '90s for Fat Possum, Birdman and a few others (including From Senegal To Senatobia, which included kora and slide guitar). He was championed by Martin Scorsese, who used his music in films. He had signed on to contribute to Corey Harris' Mississippi To Mali album but died before the sessions could take place. His daughter happened to die the very same day as Otha and the joint funeral service included, of course, his band leading the procession.