Bluegrass

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

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

 

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.

banjo-player

The History of the Banjo

However, the banjo is actually a descendant of African musical instruments, and was created in the American and Caribbean colonies by African slaves and occupied a central place in African American traditional music. It made its way into white music when slaves interacted with white sharecroppers and their music melded.

English Zither-Banjo, c. 1895

“…and their music melded”. That is a very polite phrase. Institutionalized slavery in America “melded” Africans and colonial whites in particularly violent ways. That phrase is also polite. When you have a literal master/slave relationship you must be aware of the dynamics present in any “cultural exchange”. Africans brought their knowledge of their own musical instruments to America and the Caribbean and modified them and created unique versions of them with the different materials at hand. Which were then co-opted by their white masters. Politely speaking.

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The Reunion Band

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.

Known for its tight vocal harmonies and solid traditional bluegrass sound, the Reunion Band features veteran Boston-area musicians Richard Brown (mandolin), Dave Dillon (rhythm guitar), Margaret Gerteis (acoustic bass), Laura Orshaw (fiddle) and most recently BB Bowness (banjo) . The band, which has been around since 2002, takes its name from the fact that its members have played together off and on and in various configurations for over 30 years.

Brent Williams inducted into the Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame

Brent WIlliams
Liverpool, NS – September 19, 2013 -
 
Legendary Country artist Brent Williams has been inducted into the "Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame" Brent's lengthy career has spanned a 55 year period. A plaque will rest at the Hank Snow museum in Liverpool, NS for fans and public to view.
 

Brent Williams

 
Brent Williams, the youngest of eight children, was born on a small farm in Hassetts, NS on March 25, 1940. Influenced by his mother’s love of music & encouraged by his brother to begin playing guitar, Brent went on to have a professional musical career spanning over 55 years. 
 
He was an original member of the bluegrass band “The Birch Mountain Boys” who toured the Maritime Provinces.  Brent, along with singing partner Harry Cromwell, created “The Brent & Harry Show” and while on the Gaspe Coast in 1963 joined up with the Marcel Martel Show from Drummondville, PQ.   A few years later Brent moved to Toronto and began a solo career in mainstream country. Whether playing at the Matador Club in Dartmouth, on stage at Seneca College in Toronto, as a guest on:  Don Messer’s Jubilee, Country Time, Make Mine Country, CJCH Jamboree, Maritime Playboys Show,  or recording at RCA Studios in Nashville, Brent’s musical talent and charisma leaves his listeners in awe. During the ‘90’s,  Brent’s cross-Canada tours became a regular with the biggest chain store in the world, Wal-Mart. Hosting many of his own stage shows gave him the opportunity to perform his award winning songs, many of which were top 20 chart busters.
 
During his career, Brent has shared the stage with numerous well-known artists including: Stompin' Tom, Dave Dudley, Family Brown, Oakridge Boys, Wilburn Brothers, Stoneman Family, Jean Shepard, Osborne Brothers, Prairie Oyster, Terry Carisse, Charlie Louvin, Freddie McKenna, Red Shea, Joyce Seamone, Carroll Baker, Shania Twain, Myrna Lorrie, Vic Mullen, Ned Landry, The Mercy Brothers, and Ronnie Prophet. 
 
Brent was one of the founding members of the Canadian Country Music Association, won the ‘Bon Soo’ Open Fiddle competition, recorded over 20 albums, received a Certificate of Merit (Condor/Marathon Music) Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences ‘76 & ‘77, and has been nominated for a CCMA award.
 
 
Brent continues to tour throughout the Maritimes and Canada.  For the past 10 years his career has taken a turn toward Gospel - recording and performing as part of his personal ministry. Whether your taste is for Gospel, or rich country vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar, five-string banjo, or picking blue grass or fiddle tunes ranging from old-time to Cajun, Brent Williams does it all.
 
Image credits: Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame, Brent Williams
 
 

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 …. I admired him that much that I never forgot a lot of the things he would say. There's things in my music, you know, that comes from Arnold Schultz-runs that I use in a lot of my music (Bill Monroe, quoted in Rooney 1971).1

Quotes such as this one from bluegrass star Bill Monroe are by no means atypical. For ten years I have been interviewing at length older country musicians and folk musicians from the 1920s and 1930s about that misty borderland wherein traditional American folk music was somehow transformed into commercial country music; many, many of them mention bands such as Arnold Schultz's string band, point to them as influences, as models, as colleagues. They point to a genre of American music that most scholars have ignored and that most mem­bers of the general public do not even know existed: a genre that De­Ford Bailey, the famous harmonica player on the early Grand Ole Opry, defined for me as "black hillbilly music." "Sure," he said, "black hillbilly music. Everybody around me grew up playin' that. Fiddles and banjos and guitars; they weren't playin' no blues then. It was black hillbilly music" (Bailey 1975).

For years the emphasis of those studying black American folk music has been directed to religious music (the first really respectable music to study), to jazz (the first commercially successful brand of music), or to blues. Yet do these three forms really account for all of the rich variety of black music found in folk tradition-or just the most visible ones? What about the rural fife-and-drum tradition, which has lingered unno­ticed in Tennessee until this present generation? What about the tradition of black non-blues secular song? And what about the tradition of the rural string band music? To explore these aspects of black music requires a great deal more digging and musical archaeology but might yield in the end results as fruitful as those coming from jazz, blues, and religious music studies.

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1. Arnold Shultz, incidentally, went on to influence Kennedy Jones, who taught white musician Mose Rager, who taught Merle Travis and Chet Atkins.

DISCOGRAPHY

Virginia Traditions. BRI-001. Blue Ridge Institute, Ferrum College, Ferrum, Va. Blind James Campbell and his Nashville Street Band. Arhoolie 1015, recorded as recently as 1962. Altamont: Black string band music from the Library of Congress. Rounder Records or Compact Disc 0238. 0942-1946 recordings by the John Lusk String Band and the fiddle-banjo duo of Nathan Frazier and Frank Patterson, with extensive annotation by the author.}

Originally published in Black Music Research Newsletter 4, no. 2 (Fall 1980). Used by permission of Mary Dean Wolfe.

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. Now a new generation of blacks is rediscovering and reinvigorating the string band tradition. Black and white scholars are documenting the African origins of the banjo and how African-Americans adapted it. At the same time, young African-American string bands like The Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Ebony Hillbillies, Sankofa Strings, and Don Vappie and His Creole Jazz Seranaders are reinventing traditional banjo and fiddle music.

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Bluegrass, string music deeply rooted in African-American tradition

Strains of African-American music beat in the deep heart of bluegrass, from the African-derived tones of the five-string banjo to the blue notes that give the music its characteristic lonesome sound.
 
At least two African-Americans who play bluegrass and string music – Tennessee picker Carl Johnson and Carolina Chocolate Drops member Hubby Jenkins – will perform at this week’s World of Bluegrass festivities in Raleigh. And acoustic-music giant Bela Fleck and banjoist/wife Abigail Washburn will likely explore the banjo’s African roots during their duet appearance Friday.
 
Johnson, 59, a powerful five-string banjo player and singer, grew up in the Virginia mountains. In the segregated South of the 1950s, he came to bluegrass through a family affection for gospel music, a style in which black and white traditions often merge.
 
“I’ve been listening to it all my life,” Johnson said during a recent interview, referencing the bluegrass stars he heard near Roanoke, Va. “We were lucky because we had Don Reno and Red Smiley on TV in the morning and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in the evening.”
 
Jenkins, 28, a New York-based musician in his fourth year with the wildly popular, Grammy-winning Chocolate Drops, also tours the United States and Europe with his solo mixture of old-time string music, blues and ragtime.
 
“Definitely in the band, and as a personal mission, I want to bring this music forward,” Jenkins said. “We’re trying to spark more interest in the African-American community, not just as museum music, but as music for the people.”
 

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