Well, with all that’s been going on just recently it’s just possible that you may have missed the short series ‘Black Roots‘ on BBC Radio4. Particularly as it would have found a natural home on Radio2, right after the Folk Show, once upon a time. Anyway – this is a must hear for anyone interested in the origins of American Roots music, Bluegrass and Country.
There are three episodes which can be found on the BBC Sounds listen again site.
Episode 1: Rhiannon Giddens returns to her home state of North Carolina to explore the lives of two black fiddlers – Joe Thompson and Frank Johnson. Johnson was one of the first black celebrities in the Southern states of the USA. Born into slavery, he bought freedom for himself and his family on the back of his profits as a musician. More than 2,000 people processed through Wilmington, North Carolina for his funeral in 1871. Though he died before the start of the recording industry, his music was passed down through generations of black fiddlers in the region. The last of these fiddlers was Joe Thompson, who taught Rhiannon countless songs.
Episode 2: Rhiannon Giddens explores bluegrass music in Kentucky, the history of the banjo and the story of Arnold Shultz. For many listeners of bluegrass, the story of this music begins in December 1945, when ‘Father of Bluegrass’ Bill Monroe brought his band on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. Yet, Bill Monroe always acknowledged the black fiddler and guitarist Arnold Shultz as one of his major influences. Rhiannon explores how African American musicians like Shultz were often mentors to white country stars of the time.
Episode 3: Rhiannon Giddens explores the home of country music in Nashville to see how black people shaped this genre. How black is Nashville and its music history? Rhiannon uncovers the story of one of the biggest stars of the early country era – the African American ‘Harmonica Wizard’ DeFord Bailey. He was one of the most beloved performers at the Grand Ole Opry and the first black star of the radio age.
So thanks BBC, this was worth the licence fee on its own. And won’t we miss this kind of broadcasting once Nadine Dorries finishes with you.
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