All posts tagged: Black History Month

Saturday Soundtrack: Leyla McCalla

New York-born Haitian-American multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla is the fifth and final featured artist in our Black History Month tribute to musicians at the forefront of the work to reclaim the African American contributions to folk, old-time, country and roots music. I kicked off the series with my January tribute to Amythyst Kiah and then celebrated throughout February the music of Rhiannon Giddens, followed by Dom Flemons, Otis Taylor, and last week’s artist, Keb’ Mo’. McCalla grew up in the cultural mix of New York City but relocated to Accra, Ghana for two years while a teenager. She returned to the States to study cello performance and chamber music at NYU. Taking that knowledge—and “armed with Bach’s Cello Suites”—she left to play cello on the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans. There she sang in French, Haitian Creole, and English, and played cello, tenor banjo and guitar. McCalla spent two years and gained greater fame as cellist of the Grammy award-winning African-American string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, alongside bandmates Giddens and Flemons. She …

Saturday Soundtrack: Keb’ Mo’

Keb’ Mo’ has been playing traditional blues and roots music for more than three decades. So he seemed a natural to be included in our Black History Month tribute to musicians at the forefront of the work to reclaim the African American contributions to folk, old-time, country and roots music. I kicked off the series with my January tribute to Amythyst Kiah and then began it in earnest the last three weeks; first with a celebration of the music of Rhiannon Giddens, followed by Dom Flemons and then Otis Taylor. Kevin Roosevelt Moore (rechristened Keb’ Mo’ around 1994) has been at the work of reclaiming disappeared African American musical contributions for his entire career. His inaugural album included two Robert Johnson covers and he has a well-earned reputation for his mastery of multiple blues styles. But it is his ability to combine traditional approaches with a contemporary attitude, while working with a wide variety of artists, that generates such enthusiasm for his work. Keb’ Mo’ is more than just a highly skilled retro act. As Nashville …

Saturday Soundtrack: Otis Taylor

Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Otis Taylor is the next featured artist in our Black History Month tribute to musicians at the forefront of the work to reclaim the African American contributions to folk, old-time, country and roots music. I kicked off the series with my January tribute to Amythyst Kiah and then began it in earnest the last two weeks; first with a celebration of the music of Rhiannon Giddens, followed last week by Dom Flemons. Otis Taylor was born in Chicago but moved to Denver early in life with his family. Taylor’s parents were jazz music fans. “My dad worked for the railroad and knew a lot of jazz people,” notes Taylor, while his mother “had a penchant for Etta James and Pat Boone.” Their house in Colorado was near the Denver Folklore Center, where he bought his first instrument, a banjo. During a NPR Music Tiny Desk concert, Taylor tells how he broke a string on his mother’s ukulele and went to the Center to get it fixed. While there, he became entranced …

Saturday Soundtrack: Dom Flemons

Singer, multi-instrumentalist, and musical historian Dom Flemons is the next featured artist in our Black History Month tribute to musicians at the forefront of the work to reclaim the African American contributions to folk, old-time, country and roots music. I kicked off the series a little early with my January tribute to Amythyst Kiah and then began it in earnest last week with a celebration of Rhiannon Giddens. This week we’ll look at “The American Songster,” a name Flemons has earned with a repertoire that covers over 100 years of American folklore, ballads, and tunes. Along with Giddens and fiddle player Justin Robinson, Flemons was one of the co-founders of the influential African American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, playing with the group from 2005 until 2014 when he left to begin a solo career. He has performed at a wide variety of venues with a range of collaborators, including English folk legend Martin Simpson and Old Crow Medicine Show. (He has a cameo in the latter’s hilarious official video for their song Brushy …

Saturday Soundtrack: Rhiannon Giddens

Black History Month is the perfect time to use the five Saturdays in February 2020 to highlight five different musicians at the forefront of the work to reclaim the African American contributions to folk, old-time, country and roots music. I was so excited about this project that, naturally, I jumped the gun with this special themed edition of  Saturday Music posts. Providing readers with a taste of what was to come, I celebrated the music of Amythyst Kiah—the self-described “Southern Gothic” singer of “alt-country blues”—at the beginning of the year. So let’s officially begin this project with the founder of the band Our Native Daughters, one of Kiah’s collaborators, and the woman who has one of the most visible roles in leading, in Rolling Stone’s words, the “movement of 21st-century singers, artists, songwriters and instrumentalists of color who have been reclaiming the racially heterogeneous lineages of folk, country and American roots music.” That musician, Rhiannon Giddens, is a force of nature, and one of the best things to happen, not just to African American roots music, but …