Bluegrass

The African musical influence in the world of bluegrass music

African music has always influenced other musical genres.  When slaves came to the Appalachian Mountain region from Africa, they brought over a lot of their traditions.  Most of these traditions are shown frequently in the music world, especially in bluegrass music.  It is already known that the 4-string banjo originated from Africa, along with oral tradition.  The first banjos were made with a gourd sound chamber.  Five elements that compose a banjo include the sound chamber, head (vibrating membrane), neck, bridge, and the strings.  The most important part is the bridge as it transmits sound from the strings to the head.  However, early banjos from Africa did not have bridges. 

Richard Brown

Accomplished Monroe-style mandolin-player Richie Brown currently serves on the board of directors of the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky. Richie is associate director of the Museum's Monroe-style mandolin camp and a regular faculty member of Mandolin Camp North. He has contributed several original instrumental compositions to the Reunion Band's repertoire and sings lead and baritone on harmony trios.

Africa, Appalachia, and Acculturation: The History of Bluegrass Music

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.

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.

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. 

The Banjo: African Echoes

To the average American, maybe not a musician, maybe just a regular person like you or like me the musical instrument called the banjo brings up certain images to mind.  It might be seen as a primarily “white” instrument or snickers and uncomfortable grins flash as someone intones that musical phrase from the movie Deliverance. Hicks, hillbillies, bluegrass and country music perhaps.

The Reunion Band

Here is a rare occasion for me to share information on a bluegrass band that has an African American Member. It is The Reunion Band out of Boston. Here is the info from their home page reunionbluegrass.com. Their "token" African American member in Richard Brown who plays mandolin.

Rural Black String Band Music by Charles Wolfe

The first time I think I ever seen Arnold Schultz … this square dance was at Rosine, Kentucky, and Arnold and two more colored fellows come up there and played for the dance. They had a guitar, banjo, and fiddle. Ar­nold played the guitar but he could play the fiddle-numbers like "Sally Goodin." People loved Arnold so well all through Kentucky there; if he was playing a guitar they'd go gang up around him till he would get tired and then maybe he'd go catch a train.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops with Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson: a benefit for "Black String Revival"

A benefit performance for Black String Revival, an hour-long documentary from Fretless Films which will tell the story of the rise and fall and the rise again of the Black string band tradition. Before the Blues--and the phonograph-- revolutionized popular music, African-American string bands featuring banjo and fiddle played for “frolics” (square dances), parades, house parties, corn shuckings, funerals, and baby christenings. Largely forgotten, this vital musical tradition survived into the 1950s.

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