Willa Mae Buckner - Mark Austin
Willa Mae Buckner has been know professionally as The World's Only Black Gypsy, The Princess of Ejo, The Wild Enchantress, Snake Lady, and Billie Ray Buckner. She has worked as a chorus girl, blues singer, exotic dancer, and has operated a traveling snake show. In 1973 she moved to Winston-Salem and was a public transit bus driver for ten years, At 75, Buckner lives in her own home with two pythons over 15 feet long named Siam and Pepe.
Interview (Appeared in Living Blues Magazine, April, 1993.)
The first show I was on was with Jimmy Samson, a minstrel show. A lady named Diamond Teeth Mary was with the show then. I left Winston-Salem with this show. I had the opportunity to meet Ma Rainey. We weren't on the same show, our show was the next town over and a group of us went over to visit the show she was on. I saw Ida Cox. I always did want to be a performer. I went into the minstrel shows, we had a band, we had a chorus line, we had a singer. A minstrel show only had one tent, it was beautiful. I worked in the chorus line, we made our own costumes. Man we worked, eating on the run, that was something.
I sang just regular kind of blues that they were singing out there. I used to do risques, dirty songs. I started playing piano when I was 21, then I switched over to guitar when I was about 35. There was three of us. We used to get together with our instruments. One of us played Hawaiian guitar, the other one played straight. we would have a good time and then we would get a gig at a club. Then we got some men in the band, a clarinet player and a trumpet player. We used to do the minstrel shows-Jimmy Straights, Writhe Arthur, James H. Drew, Setland and Wilson, and a couple of other shows, little shows, you know, which start the season down this way. I was dancing and singing. I worked chorus and sang. The had a girl doing specialty tap dancing, but I didn't do the specialty tap dancing. I would strip, too. You know, what we call the "Midnight Ramble." No children would come in. It would come on about 12 o'clock, that's before we closed. We would do the last show, the starlight show, then everyone had to leave and but more tickets to see the ramble. Some places we were allowed to strip all the way, it wasn't like it is now. You'd strip, you'd take this piece off and throw it away, throw that away. You had to make sure to stay away from the edge of the stage.