Sunday, January 20, 2008

Before there was P.Diddy, there was Uncle John Scruggs.......



Unbeknownst to most people, African-Americans had a huge influence on Appalachian music, including bluegrass and modern day country music. In fact, the banjo, what is considered one of the most traditional Appalachian instruments, was derived by slaves in the southern Appalachians...... they fashioned it from traditional instruments that they remembered from their homeland. The earliest banjos, they made out of gourds.

"Until 1800, the banjo remained essentially a black instrument, although at times there was considerable interaction between whites and blacks in enjoying music and dance—whites usually participating as observers. What brought the instrument to the attention of the nation, however, was a grotesque representation of black culture by white performers in minstrel shows...." ( excerpt from 'A Short History of the Banjo' by Mick Moloney)

Also, traditional flat-foot dancing has African-American roots. Regarding the different settlers in Appalachia:

"The social dancing of the wealthier groups was influenced by the French courts and Playford's English country dances, reflecting the formal and methodical philosophy of the Age of Reason. In contrast, the backwoods people danced lively and boisterous reels, jigs and square dances, brought from their native countries. Into this cultural melting pot were added dance steps copied from the native Indians and the African slaves. The resulting free style step dancing was known as flatfooting, buck dancing or hoofing."

This rich African-American tie to Appalachia has been lost in many ways, but there is somewhat of a revival in it amongst some young, black southerners... including one of my favorite new traditional groups, The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Go here to listen to their music.... I bet you won't be able to keep your feet still. :)

11 comments:

Christianne said...

I love that name -- the Carolina Chocolate Drops! I also love your dip into Appalachian history to share more with us.

June said...

This would make a great Friday Fact! Thanks for sharing...and yep...my feet are tapping :-)

TwoSquareMeals said...

I'd never heard of him. Thanks for the history lesson and for the new band! They live in my city, and I had never heard of them. So fun!

colleen said...

They were at Floyd Fest last year. It's also interesting that the face pots that Josh started making when he worked with local potter, Tom Phelps, also come from an African tradition.

Anna said...

Love the post...AND Sufjan Stevens...

NICE! To Be Alone With You...

This song is awesome!

brandy said...

How can anybody be sad in the company of a banjo? It is truly the most jolly of instruments! Thanks for this glimpse into our culture.

Many of our local festivals are built around a big concrete outdoor dance floor and a stage. It makes me feel so happy to watch the people flatfoot. Maybe someday I'll be brave enough to join them. :-D

Anna said...

Have you seen your sis yet?

Moi said...

the post reminds me of one of my fav. paintings ever "the banjo lesson" by henry o tanner......don't you love the painting, blue???? it's one of the most beautiful i have ever laid my eyes upon. thanks for sharing the link ..totally loved what i heard there :)
long back we were visiting South Carolina and i had picked up a banjo collection ..it's one of my favorites in the collection i own :)

bluemountainmama said...

moi... i had never seen that painting before. i looked it up, and have to agree... wonderful!

photowannabe said...

Thanks for the link to the terrific music and for all of the Appalachian history. We have to keep this part of our heritage alive.

Joel and Jaime said...

Well, you know that my music of choice will always be classical, but you make your fiddle music sound so appealing, I just may have to check it out :) ( no, seriously, I do still have a love for that hammered dulcimer sitting in my closet...) By the way, I'm glad to see you're 'back' :)