Jake Blount has built a career out of understanding the banjo’s connection to Black American folk music. In this video, he walks us through the instrument’s history — from West Africa to enslaved people in the US to the early record industry — to explain how Black folk music has evolved.
For example: The early record industry confined Black musicians to “race records” and white musicians to “hillbilly records.” Hillbilly music would have been early country and string band music. Race records restricted Black musicians to blues and jazz genres. Which meant Black musicians playing bluegrass-style banjo weren’t recorded — even if they were responsible for teaching white musicians.
Using field recordings, their own banjo and fiddle skills, and a deconstructed version of one of their own songs, Jake explains how Black musicians have long been left out of the current canon of folklore recordings and American folk music history. And what he’s doing to keep the tradition alive, with fresh observations and a musical style that looks both forward and backward.
This video was filmed on location at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Listen to Jake Blount’s music and find his album The New Faith, here: https://jakeblount.com/
Jake’s website also lists resources for Black string band music. You can find free online resources, discover contemporary black artists, and listen to source recordings here: https://jakeblount.com/black-stringba…
Gribble, M., Lusk, J., York, A. “Altamont” Black Stringband Music from the Library of Congress
Blount, J. “Once There Was No Sun” The New Faith
Jones, B. “Once There Was No Sun”
Smithsonian Music, “Roots of African American Music”
Smithsonian Music, “Banjos”
PBS, “Blackface Minstrelsy”
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