Three young musicians have revived an antebellum combination of banjo and fiddle to recreate old-time music traditionally performed in rural black communities in the Carolina Piedmont.
From a Yahoo chat group called Black Banjo Players Then and Now, Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson eventually got together and formed the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
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It's hard to define who plays what instrument in the band, as performers tend to swap instruments from song to song.
Vocalist, banjo and fiddle player Rhiannon Giddens is a native of the North Carolina Piedmont. She's been trained in opera and Celtic music, but decided to get back to the roots of music from her local area.
Also a fiddler, vocalist and banjo player, Justin Robinson, who grew up in Gastonia, was trained in classical violin as a young man. Dom Flemons, originally from Arizona, plays guitar, banjo, harmonica, jug, snare drum and sings.
Their music has been described as country, folk and old-time, but would be best defined as traditional Piedmont string band music.
In this music, the banjo is the lead instrument and the fiddle serves as backup or accompaniment, rather than serving as lead instrument as it would in Appalachian string music.
Guitar and jug give the music its infectious rhythm, and listeners can't help but tap a foot or bob a head along with traditional pieces like “Cornbread and Butter Beans.”
North Carolina fiddler Joe Thompson, now in his 90s, has helped mentor the group. Thompson has been called a living legend and is said to be the last black traditional string band player. Thompson grew up performing at barn dances and eventually made his way to Carnegie Hall.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops released CD s in 2006 and 2008. The band has been hailed by Henry Saint Clair Fredericks (performer Taj Mahal), a Grammy Award-winner for whom the Chocolate Drops opened in 2008.
The group will perform at the McCelvey Center in York on January 9.
Ashley Barron is public information coordinator for Culture & Heritage Museums