The Fabulous Minton Sparks, Nashville-based Musical and Performance Artist

Fri Apr 12th, 2019

Interview with Minton Sparks

Welcome to our another AboutTally community interview, a growing collection of answers to questions posed to individuals in our community doing something special, in a unique way, and making a difference. We will respectfully entertain your suggestions of who YOU would like to be interviewed! We hope you enjoy and get to know these fascinating people a little better. Minton has come to Tallahassee for a few years now, bringing a perfume of days gone by in the South through her musical and performance art, displayed at the annual Word of South.
Deanna Word of South is a festival of literature and music which held its inaugural event April of 2014. April 2019's event features a unique blend of writers and musicians and an exploration of the relationship between the two. The festival features authors who write about music, musicians who are also authors, authors and musicians appearing together, and everything in between. One of the highlights for me a few years ago was getting to meet and see the performance artist Minton Sparks.
Deanna Her performance defies categorization, but once you've seen it, it will stay in your heart and stay in your mind and it's become a new bar for me in seeing performers in person. Do they touch me the way mitten did? Do I come away thinking about it? Did I learn something? Did I laugh and maybe even did I cry? This year we're fortunate to have met Minton Sparks join us again and she's been very gracious in giving us an interview this morning. She certainly embodies the spirit of the festival, if anyone does. Again, she's a performance artist, renowned for making her listeners smile and smile again while waiting to reach out and touch the characters she spins into their imaginations. Thank you for being with us, Minton.
Minton Hi. I'm happy to be here. I'm just sitting in the car on the way down to the festival.
Deanna I'm so happy to have you with us. Um, I want to just start off by asking you, I know you've been asked this in many interviews, but who would you say are your biggest influences that have gotten you to where your performance and your cd's and all of your art happenings are, are centered around today? What brought you to where you are influenced wise?
Minton Yeah, that's always a really hard question for me because I can't ... every person on the spot. I mean it's, uh, a lot of poets. I kind of think of myself first and foremost as a poet, so Adrian Brett, Sharon Olds. There's just so many poets and I have a sense that as having an influence on me.
Deanna Did you happen to know the late Gamble Rogers?
Minton You know, I don't know who that is, but I hear a reference to him a lot. I need to look him up because I heard he's a story teller, right.
Deanna He was a troubadour and storyteller that I got to see at Micanopy Festival in the Fall every year, and we went to a wedding recently too to hear in a biographer, outline his book. So I have a little thing for you that I'll hook you up with with Gamble. You need to know who he is.
Minton Yeah. I'd love to. You know lots and lots of musicians as well as singers/songwriters that are lyric based, uh, Patty Griffon and Darrel Scott... You know, it's hard to think of off the top of my head, but I've never can think who.
Deanna I understand well... I'm glad we started with the hardest question. Are you a Laurie Anderson fan?
Minton Oh, huge... huge fan of hers.
Deanna Yeah. I think she prepped me for you.
Minton Yeah, she's perfect. I got to see her a couple of years ago in Nashville. It was, you know, it was a dream-come-true that she, that, you know, I remember performance artists [audio lost],
Deanna You know, I know what we get out of seeing you and how much I'm looking forward to it. What do you get out of traveling as long as you are in the car today and attending events like word of south?
Minton Uh...I love acts of service... and after shows listening to people who want to tell stories that have happened in their own lives and that's thrilling to me because I think that's a lot of the reason people respond to this work and it throws them back into their own personal stories and um, you know, it's still really worth it.
Deanna Yeah. I always lead with the grandmother's purse smelling like juicy fruit... That totally took me there.
Minton Yeah. It's hard to find somebody that doesn't have some association with that kind of thing.
Deanna How did you get from teaching psychology to performance in storytelling and the art that you bless us with today?
Minton I worked as a psychologist probably ten years and taught women's psychology at divinity school and dropped out and then I ended up having a guitar teacher. I was taking guitar lessons forever.... not getting very good at it because I was writing poetry in the middle of all that. Um, we just stared, sort of, trying to figure out how you put music behind it somehow, but still couldn't quite figure it out. Then, later down the road I met John Jackson and he knew all kinds of genres of music and we sort of figured out how they go together more like a song.
Deanna Can you tell us a little bit about your partner? You just mentioned him. How did you meet him? Hello? I assume you are in the car as well?
Minton Yeah. He can't hear you. He's driving. I met him through another mutual friend and knew of him personally. [Minton to John Jackson] how did we meet? I can't remember. Oh that's right! Tracey Hackney, a dobro player, who said you got to meet John Jackson because he knows all genres of music and he played with a million people before I met him... Bob Dylan for years and Lucinda Williams, Shelby Lynne... and just had a lot of musical influences...
Deanna It's a pretty exciting partnership. Who have you yet to play with or perform beside that you bet you aspire to?
Minton Wow.... Tom Waits...
Deanna Yeah. No kidding. He's my favorite.
Minton Yeah, that would be, you know, the thrilling thing of all time. I mean, we got to open for the Punch Brothers a couple of years ago, just since their musicianship is exciting, you know, but Tom Waits, I think, it's the one, I think of.
Deanna Well, you and me both, we're got both going to just think about that and manifest it because that would be a dream. Um, yeah, we noticed that you treat your characters in your story with such affection and you offer your listeners a chance to smile at them while still respecting the people they might be based on. Have you ever ruffled feathers with your stories?
Minton I'm sorry?
Deanna Have you ever ruffled feathers with the origin of your stories?
Minton Okay. You know, I have a very strange family... They like to be reported on, which is strange because that is, you know, the whole ethical issue that... but a lot of them [the stories] are true.
Deanna Yeah.
Minton All right, I have to say all of them are true, but I too come from a clan of people who liked to, you know, they, they'll call me and say, "Oh, you're not going to believe it. You know, your aunt has divorced for the eight time," and you this going to be a great story... and, uh, and they're excited to see what comes up around that. So, and you know, my grandmother, when the very first record came out in 1999, it's a lot about her and the difficulty of her family and she loved it. I remember sitting in the car with her and playing them [the stories] for her, and I don't think she felt violated in any way. She sort of felt like, oh, thank goodness somebody, you know, it hasn't been forgotten.
Deanna Well, it's pretty cool that you're speaking a voice for your family. Your legacy work is the story of your family. Um, much like Rick Bragg who was here last year and we got to talk to him and I've been a longtime fan of Rick's. Um, but I see that being very similar. You're, you're, you're leaving the legacy story of your family and all southern families.
Minton Yeah, that for me is sort of the hope around that.
Deanna What, what do you think that is true about the South that makes it so ripe for storytelling?
Minton Uh, I think historically the South was land-based. Right. You know, so... it was late to the intellectual party... not that there's not tons of intellectuals in the South... I didn't mean to say that... you know, but it was land and farming and family. I think that's thrilling... uh... I don't know if it's ritual or story. I'm hesitating because I was talking to woman the other day who told me one of the most beautiful stories I've ever heard about her, uh, aunt having a stillborn baby and how this family knew how to ritualize that. The story of it is a beautiful on a level that is, you know, hard to hear in some ways, and I think that's one thing in the South that there's still a knowing about rituals. and their rituals are passed around and it's sort of a bedrock of culture, and that seems [attractive] to the kind of people who will spend time in the South as writers, trying to get a whiff of that.
Deanna Instant Flannery O'Connor's...
Minton ...right. Um, did you say...
Deanna Yeah. Instant Flannery O'Connor's.
Minton Oh yeah, for sure. For sure. Yeah.
Deanna Um, can you describe your role in this place in time? In one word, where you are right now in your life. Is there a word that pops up for you? Kind of like the word of the year that a lot of us meditate on for what we want to manifest this year. Can you think of a word that describes where you are?
Minton Ah, it's the visual. It's not one word. It's sort of the way through the edge of the past and present that is... electric.
Deanna Well that, that's a pretty great word. So coming from being a poet, performance artists and novelists teacher, psychologist, essayist... what do you aspire to next besides performing with Tom Waits?
Minton Um... I'm always in the middle of what I'm reading and I'm in middle of... sort of... backwoods mysticism... so that's really interesting to me..
Deanna Oh, that ought to make some really fascinating pieces coming from you.
Minton Yeah. It's, uh... I hope so.
Deanna So we've already touched on what I perceive [as your legacy]... The gift that you've given your family and the legacy of telling their story through the ages. Do you have a legacy that you want to be known for? Not even when you're gone, but after you've performed for Tom and you've moved on in different parts of your career and it's gotten even more rich... what do you want your legacy to be?
Minton Wow, this is really good questions. Um, you know, cutting [criticism], I just think there's something that's leaning over the edge of what hasn't yet happened. There's sort of a letting go of the critic. And I think that in my teaching, that's the whole premise of teaching people is just sort of dwell on the unknown and leave the house of the critic and see who you are, and I think that's more of sort of being a teacher of that.
Deanna That's beautiful. Um, how's the way that you have manifested all of your characters changed how you view yourself as a woman or a female? As a woman, now, you're a young woman; you're a beautiful woman and through your characters you appear to be crone-ish or old, and in each your physicality is so manifested in the characters that you're portraying. Has it changed the way you see yourself as a woman?
Minton Yeah, yeah. Time collapses the history with the present with the future. And I think that sort of deconstructs a linear narrative of who I image I am. That's definitely impacted it because you a body, when you're performing... those time periods collapsing, I don't know, it redefines about how time [flows] through a body,
Deanna ...because it is fascinating to see you out of character and in character. Like I said, from afar you appeared to be a much older woman because you take on the countenance so well when you embody your characters. And then up close when we were able to chat and you were kind of pulling up your things [character elements]... it was obvious that I could pass you in the grocery store and not have that impression. You really take it all in and kind of trans-mutate through whoever you're representing.
Minton It seems like... I always think about my kids when they were around their grandmother or their great aunts and all that. They're kind of... you know... they're planning themselves inside the child the whole time they're growing up around them. It definitely comes back.
Deanna Right. If it's not one thing, it's your mother, right?
Minton Yeah... [laughter]... That's exactly true.
Deanna Do you see some of your characterizations coming out in the words or actions or pantomimes of your kids?
Minton Uh, do I see the characters coming out for that?
Deanna In them. Yes. Do you hear them make references that are not from their mother, but from one of her characters?
Minton Oh yeah, for sure. Yes.
Deanna I bet that's a hoot
Minton Yeah, they were always talking about us... not about people that weren't in the room, but that they were conjuring.
Deanna Do you ever see yourself performing alongside them or them alongside you at one of your performances?
Minton Um... not along side... but... they're definitely in the room.
Deanna Okay. Well, if this audio does not turn out to be clean, then I'll just transcribe it if that's okay with you.
Minton Okay.
Deanna And the last thing is what can Tallahassee do for you? How would you like to leave this festival feeling really feeling loved and completed and given whatever we have to give you here, what would make it a successful visit for you?
Minton I just love when people come to the show. You know.. open to something new that haven't seen before.
Deanna Well, know that you always have places to stay and be when you're here, considered it part of your extended network. There are many people who would just love to have you as a guest and would leave you alone and let you prep and just show you a good time. I hope you get to eat some good food while you're here.
Minton Okay, well I hope I get to see you!
Deanna Yup. I'll see you tomorrow. I'll be taking pictures.
Minton Okay. Thank you so much.
Deanna Thanks Minton, and I'm going to end this with some references back to your website and clips and things like that so people can easily find you. Have a safe trip.
Minton Thank you!

Find Minton sparks

Website: Minton Sparks

It is believed that the first Christmas celebrated in the United States was celebrated at the site of the DeSoto encampment in what is now Tallahassee.
Tallahassee has the honor of being the only capital city of the south that is positioned east of Mississippi to never be taken by Union Forces during the Civil War.
In 1988, Money Magazine name Tallahassee as one of the top three cities in the southeast to live in.
In 1992, the National Arbor Tree Foundation awarded Tallahassee the tile of “Tree City USA” and in 1999, the National Civic League awarded Tallahassee the All American City Award.
In 2006 the National Recreation and Park Association honored Tallahassee with the award of Best in America for Parks and Recreations.
Tallahassee residents celebrated a white Christmas in 1989. This is a rare occurrence in this sub-tropical climate.
Tallahassee has ninety five square miles of land and over two square miles of water.
Tallahassee is home to the third tallest capital building located in the United States. The building is a twenty three story one that was designed by Edward Durell Stone.
The city is home to the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, which is the world’s largest magnet laboratory and also the highest powered. The equipment in the laboratory is capable of generating a magnetic field that is one million times stronger than the magnetic field of the earth.
“Tallahassee” is a Muskogean word approximately meaning “old fields.”
Tallahassee was founded in 1821 and it became Florida's capital city in 1803. It was selected because it was roughly centered between Pensacola and St. Augustine, the capitals of West Florida and East Florida, two former Spanish colonies.
Tallahassee came close to losing capital status in the 1960s with a push to move it to Orlando, which is considerably closer to major growth spots in the state like the Tampa Bay and Miami areas.
The city's second and current capitol building, built in 1977, is the third-tallest capitol building in the U.S. (after Washington, D.C. and Austin). It's 22 stories high.
If you go to the top floor, there's an art gallery and large windows all around providing panoramic views of the city.
While camped out in what's now Tallahassee in the winter of 1539, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his group are believed to have been the first people to celebrate Christmas in the continental U.S.
Florida's capital city is known today as a college town, but it's been that way for well over 150 years. In 1843, the Tallahassee Female Academy was founded and in 1854, The Florida Institute was founded. Two seminaries were also built in the early 1850s.
All these schools eventually became part of Florida State University, the city's largest college.
Tallahassee is also home to the country's biggest historically black university by enrollment, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, AKA Florida A&M or FAMU.
Tallahassee is one of the hottest places in the state in the summer. It's one of the few Florida cities that hits temperatures over 100 from time to time.
However, it's also one of the coldest places in the state during the winter.
In 1899, Tallahassee temps hit -2 degrees during a historic blizzard. It's the only recorded instance of a below-zero reading in all of Florida.
The city's record snowfall accumulation is 2.8 inches on February 13, 1958.
On average, Tallahassee gets a measurable quantity of snow once every 17 years.
The city, and Leon County as a whole, consistently has one of the highest voter turnout percentages in all of Florida's 67 counties.
For the general election in 2008, the county set a state record with an 86 percent turnout.
The Tallahassee Police Department is the third oldest in the nation. Founded in 1841, only the Philadelphia and Boston PDs predate it.
FSU's Doak Campbell Stadium holds 82,300 spectators. It's the biggest Atlantic Coast Conference football stadium.
FSU's Doak Campbell Stadium is the country's biggest continuous brick structure.
The university also offers students the opportunity to tour the world as circus performers if they join the extracurricular FSU Flying High Circus.
FSU has a long history of student activism and is believed to be where streaking was invented.
The highest powered magnet laboratory on Earth is at FSU's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
FSU's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory's magnets can produce a magnetic field one million times more powerful than our planet's magnetic field.
Tallahassee hosts one of the world's top equestrian eventing competitions. It's called the Red Hill Horse Trials.
Tallahassee hosts one of the largest, most attended festivals in the South, Springtime Tallahassee, which has been running annually since 1967.
The Tallahassee Automobile Museum has Abraham Lincoln's horse-drawn hearse on display.
The 68,000-acre St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, founded in 1931, is one of the nation's oldest wildlife refuges.
You can see the historic St. Marks Lighthouse there, which was completed in 1842.
In the early 20th century, the St. Marks railroad transported cotton and other products to the coast for shipping. The route's been paved and is now a 20.5-mile long nature trail.
The John G. Riley House, built in 1890, is the last remaining piece of history from the middle-class African American community that thrived in downtown Tallahassee at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, it's a museum.
The Tallahassee Automobile Museum is home to the real Batmobiles from "Batman Forever" and "Batman Returns," as well as replicas of a number of other Batman-related vehicles.
The Tallahassee Automobile Museum has steam-powered cars and amphibious vehicles.
You can see Tallahassee's oldest resident- an approximately 10-foot tall mastodon skeleton named Herman- at The Museum of Florida History. He's over 12,000 years old.
Lichgate on High Road is a little-known fairy tale cottage and historic site open to the public. The land was bought by FSU literature professor Dr. Laura Pauline Jepsen in large part to protect a majestic, ancient live oak now known as the Lichgate Oak.
The Railroad Square Art Park district hosts the monthly First Friday gallery hop. About 2,000 people usually show up for the three-hour event.
Creed, one of the biggest bands of the late 1990s and early 2000s, was formed in Tallahassee.
Singer-songwriter, rapper, producer, and actor T-Pain also comes from Tallahassee. In fact, that's what the “T” stands for.
Wally Amos, founder of Famous Amos Cookies, was born and raised in Tallahassee, too.
Ted Bundy was indicted in Tallahassee.
The Mission San Luis de Apalachee was one of the first Spanish missions in North America. It was built in 16. It was destroyed in 1704.
Today, The Mission San Luis de Apalachee is the state's only reconstructed Spanish mission and it operates as a museum.
Tallahassee has Florida's most educated population. About half the residents have a bachelor's degree or higher.
Elizabeth Budd-Graham's final resting place is the most visited tomb in the City Cemetery. She died in 1889 at the age of 23, and her elaborate grave is marked by a very large, expensive tombstone that instantly attracts attention.
Local lore claims that Elizabeth, better known as Bessie, was a witch. Hers is the only grave in the cemetery facing west and the tombstone bears an inscription quoting part of Edgar Allan Poe's poem “Lenore.”
Unlike most Florida cities, Tallahassee isn't generally associated with the beach. However, it's only 20 miles away from the Gulf of Mexico and several popular beaches are within a couple of hours' drive.
Though by no means mountainous, Tallahassee is one of the hillier spots in Florida. Its highest peak is a little over 200 feet above sea level.
The State of Florida employs more than 11 percent of Tallahassee's population.
FSU is the city's second-largest employer, with almost 14,000 people on its payroll.
Tony Hale grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, where he attended the Young Actors Theatre and participated in numerous theatrical and musical productions.