Singer, songwriter and community activist Joyce Annette Brookshire, known as the “Duchess of Cabbagetown,” passed away peacefully on Sunday, June 4, 2017.
Brookshire was born in the Appalachian mountains of northeast Georgia, but her family was among the many who left the region in the late 1800s and early 1900s to move to Atlanta and work at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill. She was raised in Cabbagetown, the urban village where mill workers lived, and later she became a driving force in supporting, strengthening and documenting the history of Cabbagetown through her songs.
Brookshire’s musical influences were many. Her father, a truck driver, played guitar and sang in a quartet at the family church. The Brookshire’s neighbor, Grace Mote, was one of the first Cabbagetown residents to own a record player and when she played Kitty Wells and Webb Pierce, Brookshire recalled that as a child, she would run over to Motes’ porch and yell, “Turn it up, Grace!” Brookshire began writing songs at age ten and as a teenager growing up in the ’50s, she was deeply influenced by rhythm ‘n’ blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
In the early ’70s, Brookshire went to work at The Patch, a drop-in center for kids in crisis in the Cabbagetown neighborhood. At The Patch, she met Esther LeFever, who was to have a major impact on her life. Folk singer/political activist/ex-Mennonite and friend to the poor and disadvantaged, LeFever pushed, prodded, and nurtured Brookshire’s talent as a songwriter and performer. “Without Esther, most of my music might still be in my head,” she said.
As a songwriter, Brookshire expressed not only her own feelings, but became a voice for the hungry, the homeless and the poor. In the ’70s and ’80s, she toured with folk legend Guy Carawan and for a few years lived in Knoxville, Tenn. and had a band called Phantoms of the Opry with Phyllis Boyens (Loretta Lynn’s mother in the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter“).
Joyce’s first solo album, North Georgia Mountains, was released in 1977 by Foxfire Records. Her second recording, Whatever Became Of Me, was produced by DeDe Vogt and Elise Witt and released in 2000. Cabbagetown Ballad, also produced by DeDe Vogt and Elise Witt, was released in 2005 and featured the Reel World String Band from Lexington, Kentucky, along with a host of talented Atlanta musicians. Brookshire said of the project, “This will be as close as I ever get to writing my memoirs.”
Along with the Indigo Girls and other noted Atlanta musicians, Brookshire is featured on the infamous Don’t Eat Out of Dented Cans album produced by WRFG Radio. Her music has been featured in the theatrical productions Cabbagetown: Three Women, Ponce de Leon, Blood on Blood, and Texas Two-Stepping With the Girls. In 1987 she was nominated for a Georgia Emmy for “outstanding achievement in original music.” Her music is also featured in the film Lipstick and Dynamite by Ruth Leitman.
In 2009, Brookshire was honored by the Georgia State Legislature for her service to her community of Cabbagetown and the state of Georgia and that same year, she received a special award from Grassroots Leadership, which was presented by internationally lauded singer, songwriter, and community organizer Si Kahn.
Brookshire’s friend and fellow musician Elise Witt shares that a memorial celebration of Brookshire’s life and music, featuring a stellar lineup of folk, bluegrass, country, blues, and rock musicians, will be held later this summer.
To learn more about Joyce Brookshire, read “Peg-legged Salon: An Abbreviated History of Cabbagetown,” written by Doug DeLoach and published by Georgia Music in 2010.