John Westmoreland, a singer-songwriter from North Carolina, plucks his guitar in the courtyard of Lauttasaari Manor in good spirits.
Westmoreland has spent another summer with the songs of T-Bone Slim, a Finnish American who was influential in the early 20th century. He is playing one of them, Harvest Land, even now.
T-Bone Slim, real name Matti Valentininpoika Huhta, was known in the United States as a poet, activist and songwriter of the radical labour movement. The texts of the bohemian vagrant musician were given a particular boost in the 1960s when they were adopted by the surrealist movement and civil rights organisations.
The interpretation of T-Bone Slim’s songs is natural for Westmoreland, as Huhta was Westmoreland’s great-granduncle. Westmoreland learned this five years ago when he happened to read about the musician and poet from a hundred years ago and put the pieces together.
“There had always been talk in our family about interesting uncle Matt, but nobody really knew his story, not even his descendants. When I found out who he was I was astonished and, of course, extremely interested in delving deeper”, Westmoreland says.
Invited guest in Lauttasaari
Following T-Bone Slim’s story has brought Westmoreland to Finland three times in the last five years. This time Westmoreland received an invitation to the Lauttasaari Manor residence from a migrant history research group Cape Ann at the University of Helsinki.
Westmoreland’s visit is a model example of the Lauttasaari Manor residency programme, where Finnish art and/or research communities or working groups can apply for residency for an art and research specialist working permanently outside Finland. Small, new actors are favoured in the application process over established institutions and industry veterans.
Westmoreland’s residency visit has included diverse collaborations with Finnish musicians. The aim has been to make T-Bone Slim’s music known to both Finnish and international audiences as modern interpretations.
Due to the coronavirus restrictions, Westmoreland has not been able to perform as much as originally intended. He has been managing his gig fever by playing as a street musician in front of the Central Railway Station and Stockmann in Helsinki.
“I have encountered incredible people and touching fates. Perhaps the songs I perform resonate more with those who have experienced hard times than with, for example, upper middle class individuals.”
The Lauttasaari Manor residency application round is part of Kone Foundation’s annual general grant application process taking place again from 1 to 15 September 2021.