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AFRICA, APPALACHIA, AND ACCULTURATION: THE HISTORY OF BLUEGRASS MUSIC

AFRICA, APPALACHIA, AND ACCULTURATION: THE HISTORY OF BLUEGRASS MUSIC
by
Charles W. Perryman

D.M.A Research Project submitted to the College of Creative Arts at West Virginia University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Musical Arts
in
Composition

On the surface, bluegrass music is a style of country music heavily influenced by Appalachian folk music. As with almost all Appalachian folk music, the typical ensemble is a four- to seven-piece band made up of non-electrified string instruments. Many bluegrass songs are taken directly from the Appalachian folk repertoire and those that are original compositions show many of the melodic and rhythmic trademarks of the tradition. Bluegrass musicians, perhaps more so than in any other style of country music, are in constant contact with the communities of Appalachia and most of the musicians are from the region and frequently play there. These musicians and their audience are almost exclusively white, and it is undeniable that bluegrass music owes a great deal to the musical traditions of white Appalachians. It is equally irrefutable that bluegrass music shares a great deal in common with black musical styles such as jazz and the blues. Group improvisation, alternating solos, and swing are just some of the musical features that jazz, the blues, and bluegrass share. The banjo, an instrument which is inextricably linked to the bluegrass sound, is African in origin. Bluegrass singing was influenced by the blues, black field hollers, and African-American Psalm singing. The African, particularly West African, influence on bluegrass is perhaps more surprising, but is just as essential as the European influence. This study explores these two distinct strains of influence throughout the history (and pre-history) of bluegrass music. An examination of the musical characteristics of the style, the history of the music, the instruments, the playing and singing style, will reveal that the style has 2 roots in both West African and European cultures. These various elements will be traced from their origins in their respective cultures through the development of Appalachian folk music in the late nineteenth century to the emergence of bluegrass in the 1940s. It is my intention to explore how Bluegrass developed out of a synthesis of musical traditions that have their roots in European and West African cultures.

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OHR Offstage: Featuring Dom Flemons, Don Edwards & Jerron Paxton

OHR Offstage: Featuring Dom Flemons, Don Edwards & Jerron Paxton
 
Ozark Highlands Radio is a weekly radio program that features live music and interviews recorded at Ozark Folk Center State Park’s beautiful 1,000-seat auditorium in Mountain View, Arkansas.  In addition to the music, our “Feature Host” segments take listeners through the Ozark hills with historians, authors, and personalities who explore the people, stories, and history of the Ozark region.
 
This week, two Grammy Award winning old time musicians and an up and coming folk/blues sensation perform live at the Ozark Folk Center State Park Craft Village.  Featured on this special episode are Dom Flemons, Don Edwards, and Jerron Paxton.
 
One of the unique experiences for visitors to the Ozark Folk Center is the intimate matinee performances by our guest musicians.  The shows are a unique way for musicians and guests share a time and space much different than a traditional indoor performance venue.  There are often Q &A sessions, jokes, stories and of course, the occasional request from an audience member that make these sets so popular.
 
These performances take place in the backdrop of the Ozark Folk Center State Park Craft Village, a large outdoor area, home to over 20 artisans who demonstrate traditional and contemporary craftsmanship on site.  Nestled in the center of the Craft Village is an old wooden covered stage.  The area seats about 50 people but is always overflowing with people for the matinee sets by our guest artists.
 
Dom Flemons is a Grammy Award winning musician & singer-songwriter.  Carrying on the songster tradition, Flemons strives to mix traditional music forms with a contemporary approach, to create new sounds that will appeal to wider audiences.  Flemons co-found the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American string band that won a Grammy for its 2010 album Genuine Negro Jig. Today, he tours throughout the United States and internationally as “The American Songster. 
 
One of America’s best loved and most enduring cowboy singers, Don Edwards is indeed an American treasure.  His love and passion for traditional cowboy songs is second to none and has earned him a fan base worldwide.  He knows the songs, the stories, and even some of the old trails that made the old West famous.  Accompanied by his trusty guitar, Don takes us on a trip back in time when cowboy singers and songs echoed through the trails, taverns, and cattle drive camps of yesterday.
 
Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton is an American musician from Los Angeles.  A vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, Paxton's style draws from blues and jazz music before World War II and was influenced by Fats Waller and "Blind" Lemon Jefferson.  According to Will Friedwald in the Wall Street Journal, Paxton is "virtually the only music-maker of his generation—playing guitar, banjo, piano and violin, among other implements—to fully assimilate the blues idiom of the 1920s and '30s, the blues of Bessie Smith and Lonnie Johnson."
 
In this week’s “From the Vault” segment, musician, educator, and country music legacy Mark Jones offers an archival recording of Ozark original Adrian Parks performing the classic song “Under the Double Eagle,” from the Ozark Folk Center State Park archives.
 
From his series entitled “Fine Fiddlers of the Ozarks,” old time and Ozark fiddle aesthete Roy Pilgrim profiles the legendary Ozark fiddler Uncle Dick Hutchinson.  This installment features archival recordings of the classic fiddle tunes “Christmas Eve, Judge Parker Take Your Shackles Off, Hell on the Nine Mile, and Sharecropper’s Blues.”
 
 
Musical Works
Title - Artist - Year
  1. Have I Stayed Away Too Long - Dom Flemons - 2016
  2. Hot Chicken - Dom Flemons - 2016
  3. Polly Put the Kettle On - Dom Flemons - 2016
  4. Going Down the Road Feeling Bad - Dom Flemons - 2016
  5. Lonesome Old River Blues - Dom Flemons - 2016
  6. Under the Double Eagle - Adrian Parks - 1973
  7. Blues Yodel #7 - Don Edwards - 2016
  8. The Cowboy’s Last Ride - Don Edwards - 2016
  9. When the Work’s All Done This Fall - Don Edwards - 2016
  10. My Blue Heaven - Don Edwards - 2016
  11. Hesitation Blues - Jerron Paxton - 2016
  12. Mississippi Bottom Blues - Jerron Paxton - 2016

Episode 8 (African-American string band, fiddle & banjo traditions)

Episode 8 (African-American string band, fiddle & banjo traditions)

This week we hear some powerful string band music from white Appalachian performers including the legendary Camp Creek Boys, Tommy Jarrell, and the Buckstankle Boys.  But that leaves us with the question of where African-Americans, who brought the idea of the banjo to America and learned tunes on the European fiddle, fit into the old time and bluegrass music story.  Music historian Bob Carlin joins host Paul Brown for an illuminating conversation supported by plenty of music. Hear 1940s field recordings of black string band musicians made in Tennessee – including on the streets of Nashville. Then follow the story to a more recent chapter, with the discovery by folklorists in the 1970s of the Thompson family of North Carolina, some of the last traditional African-American old time fiddle and banjo players carrying on a family tradition.  We hear a song from the Carolina Chocolate Drops too, a contemporary African-American band inspired in part by fiddler Joe Thompson and the music he shared with them before his death at age 93 in 2012.  The past comes alive, the present and future are on view and in our ears, on Across the Blue Ridge.

LISTEN

Episode 8 Playlist

  1. Paddy On The Turnpike – Esker Hutchins & The Surry County Ramblers
    Album – FRC Esker Hutchins
  2. Let Me Fall – Camp Creek Boys  
    Album – Camp Creek Boys
  3. Poor Ellen Smith – The Buckstankle Boys 
    Album – Round Peak Home
  4. Sally Ann – The Hillbillies  
    Album – The Hillbillies Vol. 2
  5. June Apple – Tommy Jarrell   
    Album – June Apple
  6. BREAK 1 Molly Put the Kettle On – Joe Thompson 
    Album – Family Tradition 
  7. Old Corn Liquor – Joe Thompson
    Album – Family Tradition
  8. Eighth of January – Frazier & Patterson
    Album – Altamont
  9. Altamont – Gribble, Lusk & York
    Album – Altamont 
  10. Po Black Sheep – Frazier & Patterson
    Album – Altamont
  11. Rolling River – Gribble, Lusk & York
    Album – Altamont
  12. Black Eyed Daisey – Joe & Odell Thompson
    Album – Family Tradition
  13. BREAK 2  Twin Sisters – Sidna Myers
    Album – Clawhammer Banjo Vol. 1
  14. Little Brown Jug – Joe & Odell Thompson
    Album – Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina & Virginia
  15. Soldier’s Joy – Joe Thompson
    Album – Family Tradition 
  16. Sandy Boys – Carolina Chocolate Drops
    Album – Genuine Negro Jig
  17. Goin’ Downtown – Joe Thompson
    Album – Family Tradition

 

11 Important Black Folk Music Artists

 Carolina Chocolate Drops

Black artists have played an enormous part in moving forward the history of American folk music, from the slave spirituals to early field recordings, songs of the civil rights and feminist movements, story songs, gospel songs, protest songs, and beyond. These artists have influenced and inspired generations of folk music artists and songwriters. So, in the spirit of celebrating black history, here's a look at some of the most notable African-American artists in American folk music (listed in alphabetical order).

  1. Harry Belafonte
  2. Blind Boys Of Alabama
  3. Carolina Chocolate Drops
  4. Elizabeth Cotten
  5. Richie Havens
  6. Keb Mo
  7. Leadbelly
  8. Ma Rainey
  9. Odetta
  10. Toshi Reagon
  11. Sweet Honey in the Rock

 

 

James Allen Bland

James Alan Bland (October 22, 1854 – May 5, 1911), also known as Jimmy Bland, was an African-American musician and song writer.

Bland was one of 8 children born in Flushing, New York to a free family. His father was one of the first U. S. Negro college graduates (Oberlin College, 1845). Beginning with an eight-dollar banjo purchased by his father, he was performing professionally by age 14.

Bland was educated in Washington, DC and graduated from Howard University in 1873. He wrote over 700 songs, including "In the Morning in the Bright Light" (1879), "In the Evening by the Moonlight" (1879), "Oh! Dem Golden Slippers" (1879) (the theme song for the long-running Philadelphia Mummers Parade), "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" (1880) and "De Golden Wedding" (1880). His best-known song is "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" (1878), which, in a slightly modified form, was the official State Song of Virginia from 1940 to 1997. It was retired and designated "state song emeritus" in the latter year, because of controversy over its racial nature.

Often called "The World's Greatest Minstrel Man", Bland toured the United States, as well as Europe. Bland's earliest recorded minstrel performance was with the Original Black Diamonds of Boston in 1875. Beginning in 1881, he spent 20 years in London before returning to the United States. Bland toured Europe in the early 1880s with Haverly's Genuine Colored Minstrels and remained in England to perform as a singer/banjo player without blackface. Appearing as "The Prince of Negro Songwriters," he was invited to give command performances for Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales. Music historian Alec Wilder calls Bland the black writer who "broke down the barriers to white music publishers' offices." Bland was one of the most prolific minstrel composers of all time; he is reputed to have written over six hundred songs, though only about fifty were published under his name.

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