All posts tagged: Carolina Chocolate Drops

Saturday Music: 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 Music: 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 Music: 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 …

MerleFest Day 4

I’ve now arrived home and cut off my MerleFest wristband…so it is officially over.  (I’m sure the organizers are glad to know that’s what it takes.) Sunday at MerleFest is a short day, ending at 6 p.m.  If you live 7 hours away, as I do, it ends even earlier unless you want to get home at 1 a.m. Nonetheless, there were some good final day acts that I was able to work in before the heat and the prospect of the drive drove me out the front gate and headed north. I arrived a little later than planned (must have been that early morning post), so I skipped Doc and the Nashville Bluegrass Band’s traditional gospel show and caught up with the Dixie Bee-Liners at the Hillside stage.  I’d seen them the day before as part of the New Generation Super Jam and wanted to see a full show.  They had a very entertaining set, with strong harmonies and interesting arrangements.   They are worth a look if they are traveling to your town. Afterwards, …

Bright Morning Stars

Every day at breakfast before heading off to MerleFest, I’ve sat down and planned how I’m going to negotiate the day and the 14 stages.  This morning I had penciled in some old favorites, but when I arrived at the festival site I had a change of heart and decided to spend my morning listening to new bands.  You could call them the bright morning stars of the Americana music world. Saturday is the longest day of the festival, so I’m just back into my hotel room after midnight and have downloaded my pictures.  Rather than write a long, involved review, I’m just going to hit some of the highlights of the day for me: Hearing the young band Bearfoot from Alaska.  They sing beautifully and write interesting songs such as Drank Up All the Whiskey and Good in the Kitchen.  Angela Oudean is a promising young fiddler and Odessa Jorgensen is a fine songwriter and singer. I love the energy of the New Generation Super Jam on the Watson (main) stage.  The SteelDrivers played great straight-ahead …

John Work, III: Recording Black Culture

My father recently sent along a copy of a new CD from Spring Fed Records entitled John Work, III:  Recording Black Culture.  This is a recording of great interest for anyone who cares about African American culture in the South in the mid-20th century.  A Fisk University professor, Work helped the better-known folklorist Alan Lomax collect songs in the African American community, but he also collected songs on his own.  Late last year, the New York Times published a terrific article on this CD and Work’s efforts to record African-Americans. Where Mr. Lomax tended to treat black vernacular music as an artifact in need of preservation, Mr. Work sought to document it as it was unfolding.  Thus on “Recording Black Culture,” instead of spirituals harking back to the 19th century, we hear febrile gospel shouting set to the cadences of what soon would become rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll. Bruce Nemerov, who won a Grammy Award for the liner notes to Recording Black Culture, spoke at the Rutherford County Historical Society, which was …

Two Months of Great Acoustic Music Coming Up

For all lovers of traditional and acoustic music in the Washington, DC area, there are some terrific concerts coming up over the next two months. Monday, September 29 – The Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage (Free!).  A terrific band playing in the African American string band tradition of the Southern mountains.  Check out the video below. Monday, September 29 – Kevin Burke and Cal Scott for the Institute of Musical Traditions.  Yes, this day brings an embarrassment of riches, as just about the best Irish fiddler on the planet plays at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church on Old Georgetown Road in Rockville. Monday, October 6 – Nightingale, a great contra band, for IMT at St. Mark’s in Rockville. Saturday, November 1 – The Infamous Stringdusters play for the DC Bluegrass Union’s fall concert in Falls Church.  Catch one of the hot young bands in bluegrass. Monday, November 24 – David Grier, one of the great guitar flatpickers of his generation, plays for the Monday night IMT concert at St. Mark’s. Use the comments …