by Katori Hall
Alexis M. Skinner
The World of the play
In Memphis, Tennessee, Toulou takes her chances on love with rambling bluesman Ace. While she works as a washerwoman her aim is to become a blues singer. Her neighbor, Candylady, is the local hoodoo lady who teaches Toulou how to gain her desires. Jib, Toulou’s gambling preacher brother, comes to Memphis supposedly to save souls and endangers her love affair.
Toulou – A young woman who runs away from the cotton fields of Mississippi to the bluesy streets of Memphis. In stature she is tiny, but her presence makes her seem taller than she is.
Candylady – A former slave and the Hoodoo madame of Beale Street with a timeless essence, yet the quick tongue of a youngin’
Ace of Spades – A young, sexy, remblin’ bluesman with a “behind like a caboose” and hands that can play the blues out of any woman’s back.
Jib – Toulou’s older brother, a born-again Christian missionary
Important TERMS & THEMES
The Blues – Music genre originating in the slave field utterances and later drawing on the gospel wails of African Americans in black churches. The blues convey emotions of life’s trials and triumphs over black social woes, interpersonal relationships, and daily human struggles. Instruments used include the harmonica, guitar, piano, jug, banjo, washboard, and any percussive instrument. Beale Street in Memphis is one district that allowed the blues to flourish. Female vocalists like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were popular in the 1930s as the blues albums, called race records, were sold for crossover appeal.
Hoodoo – A folk practice of healing and wish fulfillment developed from West African-based traditions. It includes techniques passed down through generations of African Americans which have evolved and changed over time, usually in secrecy. Modalities of “working roots”, or practicing hoodoo, include: herbal remedies and poisons; ritualistic chants and actions; foretelling the future through “reading” bones or shells.
Goofer – Verb. To work a hoodoo ritual. Noun. Refers to cemetery dust and additional powders depending on ritual need. Goofer Dust is a Traditional Folk Song.
Mojo – Concrete objects collected and stored in a small pouch; individualized; meant for personal use to ensure holder is kept safe from negative energy and other people who would cause them physical or psychic harm. Also an abstract concept of personal power based on blend of mainly Western African indigenous beliefs that are animist and ancestral. Hoodoo practitioners draw powers, or mojo, from dynamic polytheistic rituals as well as readings from the Bible.
Of Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston (J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1935)
Woman with Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues by Paul Garon and Beth Garon (San Francisco, CA, 2014)
St. Louis Blues (1929) by Dudley Murphy
St. Louis Blues (1958) by Allen Reisner
The Conjure Woman (1926) by Oscar Micheaux