Category: Appalachian music

  • Affrilachian Banjo and Pre-Blues Traditions

    Dink Roberts (1894-1989). John Snipes (1899-1983). Elizabeth Cotten (1893-1987), who was left-handed, adapted both banjo and guitar by simply turning them upside-down. Rhiannon Giddens’s version of “Georgie Buck”: Giddens’s mentor, banjo player Odell Thompson (1911-1994), with his cousin, fiddler Joe Thompson (1918-2012). For more, browse here: https://affrilachianmusic.weebly.com/stylistic-and-instrumental-origins.html The banjo as a genteel parlor instrument: Plink-a-Pong, […]

  • Black Country

    This seems to be the summer that country trap reached the mainstream. Where does country trap come from? Maybe we should be asking why we think of country music as a white genre in the first place. One of the reasons that we think of country as a white genre is that country music has […]

  • The DNA of American Folk Music

    Engraving of Pocahontas (1595-1617). In 2018, in response to pushback against her longtime claims of Native American ancestry (including from President Trump, who refers to her mockingly as “Pocahontas”), Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren had her DNA tested, and made the results public. The test indicated that Warren had a Native American ancestor […]

  • Green Corn

    (Poster for Gordon Parks’s 1976 film Leadbelly.) In their 1936 book Negro Folk Songs As Sung by Lead Belly, “King of the Twelve-String Guitar Players of the World,” Long-Time Convict in the Penitentiaries of Texas and Louisiana, John Lomax and his son Alan published their transcriptions of many of the songs Leadbelly played. Of the song “Green […]

  • Fare Thee Well/Careless Love

    In his memoirs, John Lomax described collecting “Dink’s Song” in Texas in 1904, at a work-camp for skilled black builders from Mississippi who were constructing a levee on the Brazos River. Dink was one of a group of women imported from Memphis by the camp overseers to keep the workers happy and discourage them from […]

  • More Call and Response

    The musical forms brought to the Americas by slaves from west Africa were generally functional: that is, they were used to aid in ritual, work, daily life, and war. Antiphonal singing also facilitated communication across distances. As the Malinke people of West Africa say, “There is no movement without rhythm.” Notice that rhythm aids with the […]

  • Tracing the Sources

    [Content warning: racist language and imagery.] In the 1940s, the American composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, also a folklorist and musicologist, published a collection of American children’s folksongs she had compiled. One of the numbers in this volume of 43 songs is “Such a Getting Upstairs.” This singer asserts that it is a “going-up-to-bed-song” from Indiana. […]

  • Authenticity, part II: Living Music Inspired by Ghosts

    When you hear a musical recording that’s scratchy and distant, you might naturally assume it’s old: a relic from the early days of sound recording. But what would modern music sound like were it subject to the same limitations that musicians faced in those days? That’s the question posed by The 78 Project, which gives musicians the […]

  • Authenticity (part I)

    The protagonist of Hari Kunzru’s 2017 novel White Tears, a young white recording engineer named Seth, describes days spent listening to music with his college friend, Carter Wallace: We worshipped music like [Lee “Scratch”] Perry’s but we knew we didn’t own it, a fact we tried to ignore as far as possible, masking our disabling […]

  • Affrilachia

    A diagram of the major themes of country music. Country music may seem like the whitest of music genres, and has even been called “The White Man’s Blues.” Songs like Merle Haggard’s “I’m a White Boy” certainly advance that narrative. But is that narrative reliable? It’s true that some of the major themes of country […]