Blue Magnolia is comprised of vocalist Tonya Maxedon, guitarist Anthony Hopper, and bassist Mikky Jones. In April, the group enjoyed a standing-room only performance at KC’s Espresso in downtown Corinth, but the trio practices weekly and will be performing again this weekend at KC’s.
The group got its incarnation years ago when Maxedon and Hopper, second cousins, performed together in high school as what Maxedon terms as “kind of a garage band.” She said, “We were playing Tiffany and 38 Special. Don’t tell anyone, though!”
In the mid-1980s, while attending Kossuth High School, the two won the local talent 4-H talent show and progressed to the state level at Mississippi State, where they also won the talent contest, one of various competitions, and ended up performing later that night in front of several thousand 4-H campers.
They continued playing through junior and senior years of high school. Maxedon added, “We had different bass players and different drummers. Anthony and I were consistent members. We went into the studio in the early 90s and recorded with Art Joyce. After school, we quit playing together. He was in Alabama, and I was in Corinth.” Hopper got married and began having children, while Maxedon was also raising a son.
In the late 90s, in absence of performing music, Maxedon got involved in acting at Corinth Theatre-Arts in order to serve her creative urge. Hopper rejoined her in August 2012 as part of the band performing for CT-A’s production of Footloose.
Earlier this year, after some discussion on Facebook about music, Maxedon met Jones, who would become bassist for the group. Both were members of the same fitness center and discovered they shared mutual musical friends in Corinth in the Frazier family, well known in the Crossroads area for gospel music. Not long after, Jones joined the group. Maxedon said, “We began sharing our experiences, and it just felt right. That’s what music is for us: time to spend together, along with a creative outlet—but we also give each other support.”
All members of the group are multi-talented. Maxedon not only sings but can play piano. She adds percussion by playing kazoo for the group. Hopper specializes in basic stringed instruments, ranging from guitar to Dobro to banjo to ukulele.
Jones, who can also play keyboard, had enjoyed music for some time as well. “I got interested in music by watching the Beatles on TV,” he said. “And girls. Beatles slash girls. But don’t get me wrong: I love music, though.” Jones described his role as bassist as adding “punch” to the group. “The bass provides the ‘bottom end,’” he said.
In describing their musical repertoire, all three members shared a distinct perspective. Jones explained that the set as consists of “everything from early Frank Sinatra through Pat Benatar, from the Bee Gees through the Indigo Girls, and Norah Jones for something more contemporary. The whole first set consists of jazz standards, where I’m playing upright bass. The second set is more contemporary, and I’m playing electric bass guitar,” he said.
Hopper, a fan of Django Reinhardt, explained the musical beginnings of the group: “At one time, it was going to be jazz standards, like Billie Holliday, ‘Stormy Weather.’ We were trying to put enough songs together to go play somewhere and didn’t have enough. Two thirds of our music is jazz standards, and the rest is quite a mix. Mikky said one day, ‘Let’s do some Carole King,’ and, hey, it worked. We picked up a Doris Day song along the way.” Hopper described the set as “eclectic,” saying, “ I know it works for design; I don’t know if it works for music.”
Maxedon repeated the word “eclectic” in her description. She said, “There is something in the music we play that everybody should recognize. The earliest song we perform is from 1931, and the latest song we play is from 2007, spanning across decades and genres of music, including blues, country, folk, pop, jazz, opera, and rhythm and blues. I’m trying to figure out what we are because we’re so new; we’re still evolving.”
The challenge for Hopper and Jones seems to involve the musical complexity of chord progression/arrangement, while the difficulty for Maxedon is stepping into character, as she does in “Miss Celie’s Blues,” a song written for the performance of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, or in “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” which she says is also a “character song,” requiring her to go out of her comfort zone and step into persona.
Ultimately, however, the goal for the ensemble seems to be to create a connection with audience members. Maxedon referred to one of her favorites of the group’s songs, “At Seventeen,” which garnered a Grammy for original performer Janis Ian in 1972. “I didn’t know that song when it came out because I was too young,” she said. “I got introduced to it by watching musical performances from Saturday Night Live, seeing Ian perform on the show. The lyrics speak to the awkwardness of adolescence, of how that time can be so cruel. When you’re in that stage trying to figure out who you are and where you’re going, that’s very real, so I connected with that song. It’s intimate, which fits the tone of our music very well. I think intimacy is what our performances are about.”
(Blue Magnolia performs this Saturday, July 12 at 5 p.m. at KC’s Espresso at 415 N. Fillmore St. in Corinth. The performance, incorporating songwriters such as George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Janis Ian, and Quincy Jones, is free.)
(Daily Corinthian columnist Stacy Jones teaches English at McNairy Central High School and UT Martin and serves on the board of directors at Corinth Theatre-Arts. She loves being a downtown Corinth resident.)