Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Carolina Chocolate Drops

Thanks to one of the blogs I follow, the Hyperborean, I was able to read another blog, the Lumpenprofessoriat:

A post there mentioned the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a three-person African American string-band, which the blogger likes. Co-incidentally, I had just seen a recording of their performing on, of all places, the Grand Old Opry, which I almost never watch but which I channel-changed to for some reason the other day. I wrote "of all places" because I don't know whether any African American performer except Charlie Pride has been on the Grand Old Opry.

Of course, traditional rural American folk and "country" music and African American folk and blues music share some complicated roots, but once such music became commercialized in the early 20th century, it became segregated. This circumstance is well satirized in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, when the convicts and Robert Johnson go into the radio station operated by a blind person. At some point in the 1960s, I think corporate Nashville decided it needed at least one Black performer, so Charlie Pride's career was allowed to flourish. The control exerted by corporate Nashville on its product is notorious; hence the hostility that Johnny Cash often showed and the indifference Willie Nelson still shows toward the establishment there.

On the Opry, speaking for the group, the banjo player and singer, a woman, said the group had studied with an older Black folk musician in the Carolinas. The other two performers, both male, play fiddle and guitar, and the guitar-player also plays the big brown jug.

It was an interesting cultural moment to observe. The all-white Opry audience was polite and even joined in a sing-along, but they were restrained, somehow. Cool. Marty Stewart, who hosts the Opry now and is probably trying to bring it into the modern age, came out and joined the band for the last song. He also tried to get the crowd to stand up when it applauded, but no one would get up. I had to wonder how much the rise of Obama's political fortunes had to do with the appearance of the Carolina Chocolate Drops on the Opry. Maybe nothing.

At any rate, I love the music they make--at once fresh and authentic, definitely Old School, injected with three young persons' zest for refurbishing old music. So here's a shout out to the group, to Marty Stewart (for showing some class), to the Hyperborean, and to the Lumpenprofessoriat. The internet works in mysterious ways.

And here's a link to the group's site (from which I got the photo):

The group will be in Seattle, in May, for about a week, at the Seattle Children's festival.
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