Wednesday, January 15, 2020—Elnora Spencer and Friends

Jazzy Blues and More”

Award-winning singer, Elnora Spencer, will brighten a cold winter day by opening the Comer Library’s SouthFirst Bank Adult Lecture Series accompanied by outstanding musicians on piano, bass, and drums. Elnora’s style— the ‘jazzy blues’—will include gospel, jazz, and R&B, with a repertoire of songs featuring favorite oldies. Elnora has been singing since the age of four. Her musically talented family included her mother—a gospel singer during the ‘50s; a musical grandfather; and an aunt who performed on the ‘Morning Show’ out of Birmingham.

In 2014, Elnora was inducted as a Master Blues Artist in the Alabama Blues Hall of Fame. She has been featured in the Living Legends Performing Live Series at Moonlight on the Mountain in Bluff Park; has sung with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra; and most recently, she was presented the 2018 Women’s Lifetime Music Achievement Award from the Birmingham’s Women’s Music Showcase! Elnora and her talented musicians will present an hour of beautiful music and memorable songs.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020—Elliot Knight

Alabama Creates: 200 Years of Art and Artists”

Alabama artists have been an integral part of the story of the state, reflecting a sense of place through images of the land and its people. Quilts, pottery, paintings, sculpture, photography, folk art, and abstract art have all contributed to diverse visions of Alabama’s culture and environment. Elliot Knight’s presentation will highlight a broad spectrum of artists who worked in the state, from early days to the contemporary scene, exhibiting the full scope and breadth of Alabama art. Dr. Knight will share interesting images and stories about the artists that he learned about in the research of producing the book, Alabama Creates: 200 Years of Art and Artists, featuring ninety-four of Alabama’s most accomplished, noteworthy and influential practitioners of the fine arts from 1819 to the present.

Elliot Knight, Executive Director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, is an Opelika native.  He earned three degrees from The University of Alabama, including a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies. Dr. Knight is a Blackburn Fellow, Rotarian, and serves as a board member for South Arts, the Alabama Humanities Foundation, and the UA Community Affairs Board of Advisors.  He co-founded the Black Belt 100 Lenses Program working with high school photographers in twelve counties.  Previously, Knight taught at UA, and prior to becoming Executive Director at ASCA, Knight served as Visual Arts Program Manager and Deputy Director.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020—Mike Bunn

“Alabama: From Territory to State”

Historian/author, Mike Bunn, will relate the story of Alabama’s territorial and early statehood years which represent a crucial formative period in its past—a time in which the state both literally and figuratively took shape. Bunn will relate the story of the remarkable changes that occurred within Alabama in a relatively short period of time, as it wrote a constitution, built a capital, and petitioned for statehood—transitioning from frontier territory to a vital part of the American union in less than a quarter-century. The compelling story of our state’s past is rich with stories of early settlements, border disputes, charismatic leaders, rugged frontiersmen, a dramatic and pivotal war that shaped the state’s trajectory, raging political intrigue, and pervasive sectional rivalry.

Mike Bunn serves as Director of Historic Blakeley State Park in Spanish Fort, Alabama. He is author or co-author of Early Alabama: An Illustrated Guide to the Formative Years1798-1826; Alabama From Territory to Statehood: An Alabama Heritage Bicentennial Collection; Well Worth Stopping to See:
Antebellum Columbus, Georgia Through the Eyes of Travelers
Civil War EufaulaBattle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812; and Images of America: The Lower Chattahoochee River. Mike serves on the boards of several local and statewide historical and cultural organizations. Mike’s undergraduate degree is from Faulkner University and his two master’s degrees are from the University of Alabama. He and wife Tonya and daughter Zoey live in Daphne, Alabama.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020—Talladega College Choir Ensemble

“Songs From the Heart”

The renowned 143-year-old Talladega College Choir has almost 100 members. The talented group has experienced amazing opportunities to perform at such venues as the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC; the Kennedy Center; the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Birmingham; and UNCF’s An Evening of Stars, bringing honor to Talladega College and earning coveted accolades. The students are well versed in the rudiments of music, and their most treasured accomplishment is the joy that they bring to countless listeners of all ages. It has been their pleasure to travel to new places to perform for people from all walks of life. The ensemble will sing for the Southfirst Adult Lecture series at the Comer Library—offering a lovely, uplifting experience through music and song.

Dr. William S. Mitchell began his professional career in 1966 at J. N. Erwin High School in Dallas, Texas as the instructor of Class Piano and Band, and for fifty-one years, he touched the lives of high school students through music education. He moved to Tyler, Texas in 2005 to become the Director of Choral Music for Texas College, and in 2013, he moved to Talladega, Alabama to become the Director of the renowned Talladega College Choir. Dr. Mitchell holds a Master of Art and Music Education from A & M College in Prairie View, Texas and he has conducted music workshops in churches in Texas and Alabama. He is a member of an array of prestigious musical and educational professional organizations.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020—Frank Murphy

“A Native Son’s Cultural Arts Journey”

Artist Frank Murphy’s cultural arts journey began before he picked up a sketchbook, a paintbrush or a chisel and hammer! He describes growing up in Sylacauga during the 50’s through the early 70’s as “sort of like being raised in a Norman Rockwell painting.” After graduation from Sylacauga High School, Murphy entered the University of Montevallo as an art major, but changed to physical education, aspiring to be a coach! After graduation, Murphy worked with students in various capacities, while continuing to draw and take painting classes until he was called to serve in full-time ministry to students. He earned a Master’s Degree in Divinity\Christian Education from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, accepted the position of Minister to Students at First Baptist Church in Rome, Georgia; and has lived there ever since.

Murphy realizes that his work was influenced by the bond of family; the love of athletics; and the experience of sitting in church gazing at the beautiful and majestic stained-glass windows at the First Baptist Church of Sylacauga. During the years in Rome, the artist has developed his skills as a painter and sculptor with commissions from churches to paint “The Last Supper”; “The Woman Washing Jesus’ Feet”; “Jesus in Gethsemane”; as well as the ceiling and wall murals at the new Georgia Baptist Mission and Ministry Center in Duluth, Georgia. The artist will talk about these and other religious oil paintings— as well as his more recent venture into the sculpting of Sylacauga marble.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2020—Emily Blejwas

“The Story of Alabama in Fourteen Foods”

Emily Blejwas tells the story of Alabama by featuring fourteen iconic foods which are deeply rooted in Alabama identity with national resonance. Blejwas uses each of the emblematic foods as a lens through which to explore the diverse cultures and traditions of the state! While Alabamians are aware that food traditions have been fundamental to our state’s customs, cultures, regions, social and political movements, and events—many will learn history in a new way as the author focuses on lesser-known food stories from around the state,  illuminating the lives of a diverse populace: Poarch Creeks, Creoles, wild turkey hunters, civil right activists, Alabama club women, frontier squatters, Mardi Gras revelers, sharecroppers, and Vietnamese American shrimpers. Notable Alabama figures are profiled, and Alabama’s rich food history is unfolded through accounts of community events such as peanut boils, cane syrup making, and barbecue clubs. Drawing on historical research and interviews, Blejwas details the myths, legends, and truths underlying Alabama’s beloved foodways, allowing Alabamians to more fully understand their shared cultural heritage.

Emily Blejwas is the Director of the Gulf States Health Policy Center in Bayou La Batre. She previously worked for the Economic & Community Development Institute at Auburn University and the Community Foundation of South Alabama. She serves on the board of the Alabama FolklifeAssociation and the Bayou La Batre Area Chamber of Commerce and holds degrees from Auburn University and Kenyon College. She is the author of The Story of Alabama in Fourteen Foods (2019) and Once You Know This (2017). Emily lives in Mobile with her husband and four children.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020—Wayne Flynt

“Notable and Honorable Ancestors: My Clay County Heroes and Heroines”

Wayne Flynt speaks affectionately of Clay County, saying that it is “the county that produced my wonderful wife’s family, of which there are no better!” With his knowledge of the history, politics, and terrain of Clay County which was carved from Randolph and Talladega Counties in 1866, Dr. Flynt could take many directions with his story, but he indicated that he would “talk about not only people of statewide importance such as The Evangel Manning, Hugo Black, Governor Bob Riley, and  the Carmichael family—but also about ordinary folk such as my wife’s grandfather who led the Shape Note singing at Midway Church, or the graphite and gold miners, or the amazing tradition of physicians from the county.” He said, “In short I will talk, as I usually do, about the famous to all well-informed Alabamians, and the ones who are mainly famous to me.”

Wayne Flynt, one of the country’s foremost historians, graduated from Anniston High School and Howard College (now Samford University) and took his doctorate at Florida State University. After teaching at Samford for twelve years, he became head of the history department at Auburn and retired as Distinguished Professor Emeritus in 2005. He has received numerous teaching awards and written/co-authored many award-winning books. He was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor and was named Alabamian of the Year by the Mobile Register.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020—Dolores Hydock

“Through the Back Door: The Music That Bridged the Bayou”

They say in Southwest Louisiana that you can be a Cajun in one of three ways: by blood, by the ring (marriage), or through the back door (by befriending the culture). This program paints a portrait of Cajun and Creole music and musicians, and the role that music played in allowing non-Cajuns to enter that Cajun world. This presentation includes stories and anecdotes collected from Cajun and Creole musicians as they talked about the importance of music in their own lives and the lives of their families. The stories are funny, touching, sometimes irreverent, and often deeply moving. The presentation includes samples of the music itself, both in its early style and its modern-day sound, and you are invited to “come slip through the back door into the lively world of the spirited people who call Southwest Louisiana home.”

Dolores Hydock will end the SouthFirst Bank Lecture Series with this informative, fun-filled story!   Hydock, originally from Pennsylvania, is an actress/story performer whose work has been featured in concerts, festivals, and special events throughout the United States. She is a touring artist for the Alabama State Council on the Arts, a speaker with the Alabama Humanities Foundation, and a member of the Southern Order of Storytellers. Dolores lives in Birmingham, Alabama.