An Evansville native is keeping one woman’s musical dream alive and is doing it with an unusual instrument.
Minnie Black from East Bernstadt Kentucky was known as the Kentucky Gourd Lady. She carved instruments out of gourds from her own garden and started a folk band. That band is being revived as Minnie Black’s New Gourd Band. The re-birthed group is made up of co-workers and longtime friends. Together they are working to keep Black’s dream alive covering folk and gospel music using gourds.
Eric Ridenour spearheaded preserving the gourd instruments. He first ran into Black’s work at a flea market in 2011 when Ruth Mitchell, Black’s daughter had set up shop to liquidate her mother’s art. After purchasing a piece of Black’s art Ridenour started developing a friendship with Ruth, “Over those couple of years she started trusting us more. I had always kind of been implying that I would love to take the instruments home. We have musical friends and we like to get together and play, just to see what it would be like to hear them play again.”
Ruth eventually gave him the gourds and the band revival began, “When she first let us take them home, I think it was like watching her kids go off to college. We took very good care of them and we were really painstaking on making them look, feel and seem the same way,” said Ridenour.
He has put countless hours into restoring the instruments making them compatible with 21st century technology, “Eric’s passion for this has been amazing. It has been quite something to watch all of the instruments transform and I think initially he rolled out several instruments at one time. I walk into the workshop he has and I look around the room and I’m just amazed at what was there and what work was done and then he slowly rolled out one instrument we’d come to band practice and there would be another instrument restored or something he created,” said musician and singer Erin Gibson.
Ridenour plays a guitar-like gourd he calls the guitord. The instrument is special to him not because it is his personal instrument but an important message is written on it. Minnie Black’s band was invited to the World Fair. On the back of the gourd she transcribed the very invite to the fair.
The band utilizes some twenty plus gourd instruments and voices come together in harmony singing songs Minnie’s band once sang, “This work it’s more than just the gourd instruments, it’s more than just the music we’re playing. It really is a tribute to Minnie Black helping her legacy continue on which I think had somehow been forgotten,” said Gibson.
The band will be at Angel Mounds in Newburgh on Saturday February 6th for its debut. The concert kicks off at 7 in the evening — it is free and open to the public.
Black’s artwork will also be on display at Angel Mounds through March 1st.