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In which is discovered a perfect 21st century blues (Love, Kilmichael, Mississippi)

In all of the universe, very few things are made of only one thing. Depending on how you count it, we've got a hundred or so elements, and even those can be broken, at the subatomic level, into parts and parts of parts. We are compound creatures by nature. Life might as well be a compound verb.

This week I went looking for video from Kilmichael, Mississippi (pdf), which has been part of the debate over the Voting Rights Act. Back in 2001, the white people who had been in charge in Kilmichael realized that African-Americans had newly become the majority in town and that several African-Americans were about to run for office. With the government of Kilmichael no longer sure to be white only, the white officials called off the election.

But even Kilmichael is not just one story. Last year, the town welcomed home one B.B. King, the bluesman who grew up there in his grandmother's house. Kilmichael embraced their hero with a new marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail, and by the looks of things, he was glad to be there. In addition to being famous for being generally wonderful, King is known for not being able to play guitar and sing at the same time. Listen to him: He plays and stops to sing, then stops singing and plays.

And even B.B. King is not the whole of the other story in Kilmichael. While I was looking around, I also found a gospel group called the Unity Singers of Kilmichael.

The women in the Unity Singers would be wonderful enough just for that one church performance. It turns out, though, that they also record music, sometimes in the studio and sometimes just out front in the yard. Never mind that the video is sideways. As they sing, "Don't you dare throw in the towel."

On the left there in her hospital scrubs is Roberta Triplett Young, a lifelong resident of Kilmichael and a songwriter. She explains that with her sister Rhonda Triplett Woods (at right) and niece Chelsea Triplett, they named themselves the Unity Sisters for a reason. "It was establishing me and my sisters to bring all the churches together, to bring the community together," Young says. She calls the time the town official stopped the elections "a horrible incident," and describes Kilmichael as a quiet and friendly place, very small.

Below, Young improvises her way through a traditional song called "I Made It." The birds can't outdo her, and the lawnmower can't make her quit.

B.B. King's blues and the Unity Sisters' gospel are close cousins, of course, and seldom long parted. As I went falling down the rabbit hole of music from Kilmichael, I noticed a video on Young's page headlined "It is a blessing to take a fluid pill." Young says it features her sister Rhonda Woods singing a song they made up on the spot. The fluid pill is the Lasix their mother takes to treat her edema; the medicine is a fluid pill not because it's liquid, but because it helps you get rid of excess fluid. Medicine like that, and the health coverage to get it, is the blessing. 

The family was just having fun. "My sister is so silly," Young says. They grabbed a camera and started recording -- the perfect 21st century blues.

P.S. My favorite part is right toward the end, where she buttons the song with a rhyme: "It will let all excess water out. Lord, it'll make you lose weight, no doubt. I said it's a blessing, Lord, to take a fluid pill."