Carolina Chocolate Drops, African American Stringband

By 
Mitzi Dorbu
February 11, 2009
The Carolina Chocolate Drops

The Carolina Chocolate Drops bring their down-home brand of fiddle and banjo music from the Carolina Piedmont area to the Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Avenue., Tuesday, February 17, at 8:15 p.m. These three young, talented, African American string band musicians are recognized as leading a revival of this venerable music tradition. In addition to the evening concert, the group will also present a public clinic on the same day at 1 p.m. in the BPC.
 
Tickets are $10 at the BPC box office. Call 617 747-2261 or visit berkleebpc.com  for more information.
 
When many people think of traditional African American music, some of the genres they are likely to consider include gospel, blues and jazz, but fewer think immediately of old-time string band music. Nevertheless, the antebellum combination of banjo and fiddle used to be commonplace in most black rural communities in the South.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops' visit is a perfect fit for Berklee's own rapidly evolving ensemble program, which includes old-time Appalachian and bluegrass, thanks to the recent addition of an acoustic string principle to the curriculum.

Dom Flemons’s guitar and jug anchor the band's infectious rhythms and his harmonica adds melody. Banjo and fiddle player Rhiannon Giddens became inspired by old-time music when she fell into contra dancing after graduating from Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Justin Robinson, the band’s primary fiddler, is a classically trained violinist who became interested in bluegrass and old-time fiddle music, as well as the fife-and-drum tradition of African Americans in the Deep South.

The trio honed its skills under the tutelage of octogenarian fiddler Joe Thompson, a North Carolinian said to be the last black traditional string band player. They grew up playing at barn dances, "frolics" and corn shuckings and have gone on to play even Carnegie Hall. Now the trio will bring washboards, jugs, bones, and kazoos to the Berklee campus for a night of American music that pays homage to tradition while striking the ear in completely fresh, new and innovative ways.