Don’t be surprised if Bobby Horton isn’t himself when he performs at the Chattanooga Convention Center this Friday night.
His transformation is by design.
“Somebody asked me once if I ever get nervous,” Horton said. “I probably would be if I were selling myself—I’d be scared to death—but I’m selling the people ... their stories, so I’m not nervous at all.”
Horton, a multi-instrumentalist and Civil War historian, is widely considered a leading authority on mid-19th century music. His music explores both Union and Confederate music and includes elements of storytelling and education.
He will present a free concert called “Songs and Stories of the Civil War” on Friday, Oct. 11., at 7 p.m.
The concert is a part of Tennessee’s 2013 Civil War Sesquicentennial signature event “Occupation and Liberation” Symposium that continues through Sunday, Oct. 12.
Originally from Birmingham, Horton fell hard into the complicated world of the Civil War during an early childhood trip to Chattanooga.
“I got sucked in at Chickamauga,” he said. “My parents were headed to the Smoky Mountains and we stopped by Chickamauga and Lookout Mountain. I bought two books that day and now I’ve got hundreds.”
Since then, Horton has released a number of albums featuring songs and educational material. He has also worked closely with filmmaker Ken Burns as a producer and performer of music scores for 13 PBS films including “The Civil War” and “Baseball.”
On Wednesday, Horton arrived in Chattanooga to perform for a variety of school groups. His final performance included students from Orchard Knob Elementary. The students listened as Horton played “Dixie” and “Battle Cry of Freedom.”
Later, he said it’s possible to make the Civil War interesting to young students.
“Basically, I’m trying to make kids around here aware of what a special place this is,” he said. “There’s been a lot of hero blood spilled in Chattanooga and I want to make them aware of that. And let them know about the sacrifices made 150 years ago.”
He said teaching the Civil War to students should be a lot like watching a movie.
“To me, if you can get a kid to read and study the Civil War the same way they watch a movie, you’re going to naturally meld into the character,” he said. “If you can learn to do that with reading, too, you can start that feel. That’s the way I do history.”
For Friday’s concert, Horton will be “bragging on his heroes” with stories and song.
“I’m going to talk to the locals about how special this town is,” he said. “It’ll be a little more me and a lot more tunes.”
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