In 2000, Olga Wilhelmine Munding packed her car with water and an emergency aid kit. She was headed for the Hill Country. “I have a profound connection with North Mississippi,” she says. “It’s something that’s always lingering in my soul.”
Born in San Francisco, Munding meandered to New Orleans 12 years ago. Today, with three albums under her belt, she says it was the trip to meet blues woman Jessie Mae Hemphill that cemented her connection with Mississippi blues.
Ten years before Munding took her first trip to northern Mississippi, Hemphill had suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed. Unable to play large shows anymore, she fell into obscurity. When Munding discovered Hemphill’s music, she wrote her and accepted her invitation to come stay in Senatobia.
“When we met, we felt a kinship,” says Munding. Hemphill shared her music with Munding, as well as her new home. When Hemphill showed her the trailer she used to live in, Munding cried. “I’d never seen anything like that before.”
Hemphill died in 2006. A decade after their first meeting, Munding has released three albums. She works with the HBO show Treme as Melissa Leo’s stand-in and has a short, The Statue, screening in film festivals. She rides in Muses and made a Jared Leto shoe (“WWJD: What Would Jared Leto do?”) and G.I. Joe shoe this year. Earlier this year, she released Whatever You Want, an album that paired her with fellow Hill Country enthusiast Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars.
In February, Munding successfully repatriated the recordings and film footage Alan Lomax made in Como, Mississippi back to Como, a tiny town next to Senatobia that’s produced more than its fair share of blues musicians. These historic recordings helped to shape musicologists’ notions of the blues, but they belong to Como as much as the world that was affected by them. She undertook the project with Alan Lomax’s daughter, and according to Munding, the project was the first repatriation of its kind. Jessie Mae would have approved.
Olga Wilhelmine plays French Quarter Festival on Sunday, April 15 at 1:15 p.m. on the BMI Songwriter Stage.