Rhiannon Giddens and What Folk Music Means

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2019-05-18 23:29Z by Steven

Rhiannon Giddens and What Folk Music Means

The New Yorker
2019-05-13

John Jeremiah Sullivan


Giddens plays and records what she describes as “black non-black music,” reviving a forgotten history. Photograph by Paola Kudacki for The New Yorker

The roots musician is inspired by the evolving legacy of the black string band.

To grasp the significance of what the twenty-first-century folksinger Rhiannon Giddens has been attempting, it is necessary to know about another North Carolina musician, Frank Johnson, who was born almost two hundred years before she was. He was the most important African-American musician of the nineteenth century, but he has been almost entirely forgotten. Never mind a Wikipedia page—he does not even earn a footnote in sourcebooks on early black music. And yet, after excavating the records of his career—from old newspapers, diaries, travelogues, memoirs, letters—and after reckoning with the scope of his influence, one struggles to come up with a plausible rival.

There are several possible reasons for Johnson’s astonishing obscurity. One may be that, on the few occasions when late-twentieth-century scholars mentioned him, he was almost always misidentified as a white man, despite the fact that he had dark-brown skin and was born enslaved. It may have been impossible, and forgivably so, for academics to believe that a black man could have achieved the level of fame and success in the antebellum slave-holding South that Johnson had. There was also a doppelgänger for scholars to contend with: in the North, there lived, around the same time, a musician named Francis Johnson, often called Frank, who is remembered as the first black musician to have his original compositions published. Some historians, encountering mentions of the Southern Frank, undoubtedly assumed that they were merely catching the Northern one on some unrecorded tour and turned away.

There is also the racial history of the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, where Johnson enjoyed his greatest fame. In 1898, a racial massacre in Wilmington, and a subsequent exodus of its black citizens, not only knocked loose the foundations of a rising black middle class but also came close to obliterating the deep cultural memory of what had been among the most important black towns in the country for more than a century. The people who might have remembered Johnson best, not just as a musician but as a man, were themselves violently unremembered.

A final explanation for Johnson’s absence from the historical record may be the most significant. It involves not his reputation but that of the music he played, with which he became literally synonymous—more than one generation of Southerners would refer to popular dance music simply as “old Frank Johnson music.” And yet, in the course of the twentieth century, the cluster of styles in which Johnson specialized––namely, string band, square dance, hoedown––came to be associated with the folk music of the white South and even, by a bizarre warping of American cultural memory, with white racial purity. In the nineteen-twenties, the auto magnate Henry Ford started proselytizing (successfully) for a square-dancing revival precisely because the music that accompanied it was not black. Had he known the deeper history of square dancing, he might have fainted…

…Giddens’s father, David, who is white, taught music and then worked in computer software for most of his career. “As a teacher, he got all of the hardened kids,” she said, meaning behaviorally challenged students. He met Rhiannon’s mother, Deborah Jamieson, when they were both students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Theirs was a rare interracial marriage in a city where, cultural diversity aside, the Klan murdered five civil-rights activists in 1979. Rhiannon’s parents divorced when she was a baby, around the time that her mother came out as a lesbian…

…Giddens talks about her “black granny” and her “white granny.” At one point, her black grandfather and her white grandmother were both working at the Lorillard Tobacco factory in Greensboro. Once, when her white granny needed help with her taxes, she went to Giddens’s black grandfather to get it. But Giddens dismissed the idea that her life was defined by a two-sidedness. “It’s the South, isn’t it?” she said. “The point is that they are different—but the same.”…

…The prospect of gaining a wider, and blacker, audience is, one imagines, always an option for Giddens, who could, if she really wanted to, cut a pop record and presumably ascend to a higher sales bracket. But she has been unwilling to compromise her quest, which is, in part, to remind people that the music she plays is black music. In 2017, she received a MacArthur “genius” grant, a validation that has reinforced her tendency to stick to her instincts. “You do what you’re given,” she told me on the phone recently. “I’m not gonna force something or fake something to try to get more black people at my shows. I’m not gonna do some big hip-hop crossover.” She paused, and remembered that she is about to do a hip-hop crossover, with her nephew Justin, a.k.a. Demeanor, a rapper who also plays the banjo. “Well,” she said, laughing, “not unless I can find a way to make it authentic.” She told me that she does not really like hip-hop. This threw me into the comical position of trying to sell her on the genre. “The stuff I like is the protest music,” she said. “I like Queen Latifah. But the over-all doesn’t speak to me. I’m not an urban black person. I’m a country black person.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Sorry Music Journalists, Drake is Black.

Posted in Articles, Arts, Canada, Communications/Media Studies, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion on 2019-03-15 17:58Z by Steven

Sorry Music Journalists, Drake is Black.

Canadaland
2015-04-30

Kyrell Grant

Drake, born Aubrey Graham in a city where almost one in ten people are black, is black. Toronto’s greatest civic triumphalist since Jane Jacobs is black. And yet Drake’s own identity – his nationality, his mixed race background that includes Jewish heritage and upbringing, the neighbourhood he once lived in, the schools he went to – is often taken to mean that his black experience is somehow inauthentic.

It feels ridiculous to have to say this: Drake is black.

Drake, born Aubrey Graham in a city where almost one in ten people are black, is black. Toronto’s greatest civic triumphalist since Jane Jacobs is black.

He is a black man as much as any other black man. And yet Drake’s own identity – his nationality, his mixed race background that includes Jewish heritage and upbringing, the neighbourhood he once lived in, the schools he went to – is often taken to mean that his black experience is somehow inauthentic. While certainly not the first artist to have this kind of analysis imposed on him, Drake’s profile means that his art in particular has been prominently used to deny his black experience when it doesn’t conform to someone else’s narrow vision of race…

Read the entire article here.

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Rhiannon Giddens Is Reclaiming the Black Heritage of American Folk Music

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2019-02-26 02:34Z by Steven

Rhiannon Giddens Is Reclaiming the Black Heritage of American Folk Music

TIME
2019-02-21

John Lingan


Shahar Azran—WireImage/Getty Images

In early 2018, folk-music torchbearer Rhiannon Giddens decamped to Breaux Bridge, La., with minstrelsy on her mind. In her early work with the Grammy-winning bluegrass band the Carolina Chocolate Drops and across two solo albums and a role in the TV series Nashville, Giddens has been as much a historian as a singer and banjoist. She’s won acclaim, including a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, for her attention to America’s folk traditions, but she felt that minstrelsy, with its troubled history, remained relatively unexplored…

..For the Louisiana trip, she enlisted three of her favorite contemporary musicians: Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah, all, like Giddens, black women with a focus on the banjo and early American string-music traditions. All four brought original songs to the sessions, and their collaboration quickly expanded beyond its initial historical focus. The resulting album, Songs of Our Native Daughters, which comes out on Feb. 22, has one foot in acoustic minstrel sounds but is also a tribute to the strength and resilience of black women in the antebellum era

Read the entire article here.

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Secrets of famous 1930s ‘blonde bombshell of rhythm’ revealed with help from UW library

Posted in Arts, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2019-02-20 21:01Z by Steven

Secrets of famous 1930s ‘blonde bombshell of rhythm’ revealed with help from UW library

UW News
University of Washington
2012-03-27

Molly McElroy

We all have things in our past that we gloss over. Some secrets might just be embarrassing or unflattering. But others may be more serious, and people who conceal these truths may fear that revealing them would undermine their livelihoods.

Such was likely the case with an Emmy-winning female bandleader who rose to fame in the 1930s and led bands until the 1960s. Known as “the blonde bombshell of rhythm,” this sex symbol hailing from Chicago had security to protect her from the men who mobbed her performances.

See why they were so enchanted:

Ina Ray Hutton, who died in 1984 at age 67, also had a secret that could have damaged her stardom. A reporter from KUOW radio, with help from the UW libraries, recently revealed the secret. It turns out that the blonde bombshell had more than hair-dye to hide…

Read the entire article here.

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Chi-Chi tells Tubridy about her Mum’s heartbreaking story

Posted in Articles, Arts, Audio, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive, United Kingdom on 2019-02-20 19:06Z by Steven

Chi-Chi tells Tubridy about her Mum’s heartbreaking story

The Ryan Tubridy Show
RTÉ Radio 1
2018-03-12

Chi Chi
Chi-Chi Nwanoku

Acclaimed double bass player and professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London, Chi-Chi Nwanoku OBE spoke to Ryan Tubridy about the extraordinary and poignant story of how her Irish mother met her Nigerian father in the 1950’s.

“Theirs was an unconventional coupling… My mother was white, my father was black. Society was not in favour of this kind of union.

“As soon as my mother let her parents know that she’d met the man of her dreams, they said never darken our doorstep again.”

Chi-Chi’s mum did as she was told but received a surprise visit when her own mother showed up on their doorstep in London three months after Chi-Chi’s birth. She secretly stayed for a week and that was the last the family ever saw of her…

Listen to the interview (00:21:11) here.

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Jhené Aiko and the Problem of Multiracial Self-Representation

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Arts, Asian Diaspora, Latino Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2019-02-02 03:53Z by Steven

Jhené Aiko and the Problem of Multiracial Self-Representation

Hapa Music is Black and Brown
Discover Nikkei
2019-01-29

Sonia C. Gomez, Postdoctoral Fellow
Mahindra Humanities Center
Harvard University


Jhené Aiko. Photo courtesy of The come Up Show.

At the 2018 VH1 Mother’s Day music tribute concert titled, Dear Mama: A Love Letter to Moms, Grammy nominated singer and songwriter Jhené Aiko recited this poem she wrote for her mother, Christina Yamamoto, a woman of African American and Japanese ancestry:

“I found another grey hair today but I was not bothered at all. I feel like I earned it. I’m better, I’m wiser, I’m leveling up overall. I am becoming my mother, my beautiful mother, who taught me with age, comes might. I’m becoming my mother, my beautiful mother, she is love in the flesh, what a sight.”

Afterwards, Aiko and her young daughter, Namiko Love, serenaded the audience with an original song Aiko wrote titled, Sing to Me. The performance was a touching display of affection between three generations of women, and as such, offers an opportunity to reflect on the role Aiko’s mother’s racial heritage has played in Aiko’s musical career. After all, she is her mother’s daughter.

Jhené Aiko Chilombo was born in 1988 in Los Angeles to Christina Yamamoto, a woman who is African American and Japanese, and Karamo Chilombo, a man of mixed-Black and Native American ancestry. Aiko is one of five siblings who grew up in a multiracial and tight-knit family from Ladera Heights, a Black middle-class enclave in south Los Angeles. Aiko’s sister, Mila J, is a singer, songwriter, and dancer herself…

Read the entire article here.

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Mike Reed’s Flesh & Bone

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2018-11-13 03:54Z by Steven

Mike Reed’s Flesh & Bone

BIMHUIS
2018-02-03


©Adrienne-Thomas

Influential bandleader from Chicago presents an evocative mix of music, spoken word and video. ‘With its historical depth and vigorous performance, the music satisfies on its own terms’ (Downbeat).

Mike Reed’s compositions for Flesh & Bone are both deeply personal and brimming with hope, and represent his expressions of feeling about social unrest, racism and resurgent nationalism. On the eponymous album, the Chicago-based musician recollects harrowing memories of a confrontation with far-right protesters on a train journey with his band through Eastern Europe. For this project, this same four-piece band has been expanded to include a cornet player and a bass clarinet player. Poet and performer Marvin Tate plays an important role on the album as well as on stage, where dramatic tales come together with music and moving images.

As a drummer, composer and founder of the Constellation club and the influential Pitchfork Music Festival, Mike Reed is a key figure in the Chicago music scene, where he engages in regular collaborations with a variety of young musicians as well as with veterans such as Roscoe Mitchell and Wadada Leo Smith. His relationship with Amsterdam is particularly special, owing to his Indonesian-Dutch ancestry. In 2013, his band People, Places and Things released the album Second Cities: Volume 1, with pieces by Dutch composers such as Guus Janssen, Sean Bergin and Eric Boeren.

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Album review: ‘Picture in Black and White’

Posted in Autobiography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2018-10-08 03:16Z by Steven

Album review: ‘Picture in Black and White’

Rochester CITY Newspaper
Rochester, New York
2018-09-24

Ron Netsky

Concept albums are common in rock, but rare in the jazz realm. Tessa Souter’sPicture in Black and White“—set for release on October 5—breaks that mold. Souter, a Rochester favorite after multiple jazz festival appearances, has created an exquisite musical exploration of her identity. At the age 28, she discovered that her birth father was black and her roots reached from Africa to the Caribbean, from Celtic Britain to Andalusian Spain. Musical strains from all of these places permeate the album….

Read the entire review here.

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Picture in Black and White

Posted in Arts, Autobiography, Media Archive, United States on 2018-10-08 01:08Z by Steven

Picture in Black and White

NOA Records
2018-10-05

Tessa Souter

  1. Kothbiro
  2. Contemplation (Ancestors)
  3. A Taste of Honey
  4. Dancing girl/Where the Streets Have No Name
  5. Ana Maria’s Song (Ana Maria)
  6. Child of Love
  7. Picture in Black and White
  8. You Don’t Have To Believe
  9. Reynardine
  10. Siren Song
  11. Lonely Woman
  12. Nothing Will Be As It Was

with Yotam Silberstein (guitar), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), Keita Ogawa (percussion), Adam Platt (piano), Dana Leong (cello), Billy Drummond (cymbals and drums)

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Interview: ‘White people are so fragile, bless ’em’ … meet Rhiannon Giddens, banjo warrior

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Interviews, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2018-07-29 01:04Z by Steven

Interview: ‘White people are so fragile, bless ’em’ … meet Rhiannon Giddens, banjo warrior

The Guardian
2018-07-23

Emma John

‘I’m not here to be famous’ … Rhiannon Giddens, who is curating the Cambridge folk festival.
‘I’m not here to be famous’ … Rhiannon Giddens, who is curating the Cambridge folk festival. Photograph: Tanya Rosen-Jones

She pours fire and fury into powerful songs that target everything from police shootings to slavery. The musician reveals all about her mission to put the black back into bluegrass – and Shakespeare

‘We’re all racist to some degree,” says Rhiannon Giddens. “Just like we’re all privileged to some degree. I have privilege in my system because I’m light-skinned. I hear people say, ‘I didn’t have it easy growing up either.’ But when did it become a competition?”

As someone on a mission to bridge such divides, Giddens thinks about this stuff a lot. The Grammy-winning singer and songwriter was born to a white father and a black mother in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the late 1970s. Her parents married only three years after the landmark Loving v Virginia decision, which reversed the anti-miscegenation laws that had made interracial marriage illegal. Their union was still shocking enough that her father was disinherited.

While much has changed in the 40 years that Giddens has been alive, her latest album, Freedom Highway, is a powerful testament to the inequality and injustice that remain. It opens with At the Purchaser’s Option, a devastating track inspired by an 1830s advert for a female slave whose nine-month-old baby could also be included in the sale. “It was kind of a statement to put that one first,” says Giddens. “If you can get past that, you’ll probably survive the rest.”…

Read the entire interview here.

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