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The Life of Joe Thompson, and The Carolina Chocolate Drops

March 11, 2012

There’s a great story on PRI’s Studio 360/WNYC, on Joe Thompson, the recently deceased legend fiddler of southern U.S., African-American string band, banjo-based music. Originally, the banjo was born from the African ngoni — a stringed instrument with a gourd base. Thompson, and the story focus specifically on the music and tradition as practiced in the piedmont region of the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, near Thompson’s small hometown of Mebane, N.C.

Thompson helped ‘reclaim’ the music after a period of time in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when white Americans ‘highjacked’ the genre by performing in the belitting, disrespectful firm of racism known as blackface. Thompson, and others, helped revive and take back the music and culture by starting the annual Black Banjo Gathering, in Boone, NC, at Appalachian State University. The renowned, Grammy award winning, Carolina Chocolate Drops played with Thonpson, and seem a natural vehicle to carry the torch of cultural, and musical history.

Great music. CCD bandmember, Rhiannon Giddens, is smokin’ hot, too (but, alas, happily married, I should add).

Studio 360, WNYC

Joe Aquilla Thompson, narrating then performing “I shall be moved”

Carolina Chocolate Drops

App-State University, Black Banjo Gathering Set

The Banjo Project, PBS Special on the Banjo

The City of Mebane, NC

Interesting article, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the foremost organizations that analyze and fight for civil rights. The article is about a Sons of the Confederate Veterans group who had planned, then cancelled a string band, Snowflake’s Minstrels, that were allegedly planning on performing in blackface — in surprise — for a ceremony honoring a statue for civil war general and the first leader of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, in Memphis in 2005. That is, until word got out, leaked in a massive email excitedly hootin’ and hollerin’ about how funny it would be. Reflects how the music got tainted and held hostage of sort, for a period, by the racist inclinations and machinations of a past rooted in outright racism.


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