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Why These Four Banjo-Playing Women Resurrected the Songs of the Enslaved

“Songs of Our Native Daughters”

Music producer and composer Dirk Powell pointed to the back of the control room. I was filming him at Cypress House, his studio in Louisiana.

“Rhiannon was sitting right there on that green Naugahyde couch, and I was in that little room playing the guitar, and she had the talkback mic.”

Powell was talking about the day before, when he and musician Rhiannon Giddens, who teamed up for the recording of Folkways’ new release Songs of Our Native Daughters, were laying down a “guide track” for a song they would later name “Barbados.” As Powell stressed, a guide track isn’t meant to be saved. Musicians mine the track for its tempo and feel, layering their instruments over the top, before the guide instruments or vocals are redone. It’s a first step in recording a song.

Giddens—a native of North Carolina and the lead singer and a founding member of the GRAMMY award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops—researched the songs and haunting narratives of enslaved Africans. Native Daughters is a collaboration with three other African-American songwriters whose work interrogates history and, as Giddens writes in the album notes, shines “new light” on stories of “struggle, resistence and hope.”

“Rhiannon had brought in this handwritten music from the 1700s, the first slave melody ever annotated in the New World, and we started working on it, adding chords to it,” Powell says. “She was very close to the mic, and her voice was so unselfconscious and unassuming, her intention so pure, and things got very intense emotionally. We just had to keep it.”

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Joe Thompson

Joe Thompson

Joseph Aquiler "Joe" Thompson (December 9, 1918 – February 20, 2012) was an American old-time fiddle player, and one of the last musicians to carry on the black string band tradition. Accompanied by his cousin Odell, Thompson was recognized with several honors for performances of the old-time style, particularly when the genre was repopularized in the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, he recorded his first studio albums, consisting of a repertoire rooted in the authentic string band approach.

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Kaia Kater

A Montreal-born Grenadian-Canadian, Kaia Kater grew up between two worlds: her family’s deep ties to folk music and the years she spent soaking up Appalachian music in West Virginia. Her old-time banjo-picking skills, deft arrangements, and songwriting abilities have landed her in the spotlight in North America and the UK, garnering critical acclaim from outlets such as NPR, CBC Radio, Rolling Stone, BBC Music, and No Depression

Kaia started her career early, crafting her first EP Old Soul (2013) when she was just out of high school. Since then, she’s gone on to release two more albums, Sorrow Bound (2015) and Nine Pin (2016). Her second album wove between hard-hitting songs touching on social issues like the Black Lives Matter movement (“Rising Down”) and more personal narratives speaking to life and love in the digital age (“Saint Elizabeth”). Nine Pin won a Canadian Folk Music Award, a Stingray Rising Star Award and sent Kaia on an 18-month touring journey from Ireland to Iowa, including stops at The Kennedy Center, Hillside Festival and London's O2 Shepherd's Bush. For her third album, Grenades (October 2018, Folkways/acronym Records), she took a decidedly different direction, choosing to lean into a wider array of sounds and styles, in order to convey a wider array of emotions and topics, most notably her paternal ancestry.  Grenades was nominated for a 2019 JUNO award for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year and long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize.

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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

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