Friday, February 10, 2012

The Carolina Chocolate Drops Bring Traditional Music To A New Audience

Photo by Appalachian Encounters
The Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Sugar Grove Music Fest
The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a critically acclaimed traditional black string band from Durham, North Carolina. The band is dedicated to preserving the old-time sounds of North Carolina’s Piedmont region and bringing it to a new audience. The band puts a modern twist on traditional music and sometimes includes hip-hop beats in their old-time musical arrangements. Each member sings and trades off on several instruments, including the banjo, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, snare drum, bones, jug and kazoo. The members of the band are Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, Adam Matta, Hubby Jenkins and Leyla McCalla. Some of the styles the band covers include the following: Country Blues, Piedmont Blues, Regional Blues, Neo-Traditional Folk, Neo-Traditionalist Country, Folk and Modern Acoustic Blues. Their repertoire consists of original compositions and traditional string standards.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops formed in 2005 after its three founding members Giddons, Flemons and multi-instrumentalist Justin Robinson met at the Black Banjo Gathering at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. The 20-something musicians were drawn together through a mutual love for bluegrass, "jas," jug music and prehistoric country and rock. The band learned much of its early repertoire through jam sessions with esteemed old-time fiddler Joe Thompson. Since its founding, the band has released three albums and has toured internationally. Founding member Robinson left the band last year to pursue other endeavors. Following his exit, multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Hubby Jenkins and beatboxer and percussionist Adam Matta joined the band. Both musicians came out of New York City. And the most recent addition to the band is New Orleans-based cellist Leyla McCalla.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops have created quite a buzz on the music scene over the last few years. Last year, their album Genuine Negro Jig won a Grammy for "Best Traditional Folk Album," and they were awarded the Beyond Artist of the Year Award by DownBeat Magazine. And in 2008, they became the first African-American string band to appear on the Grand Ole Opry since the show debuted in 1925. They have also toured with legendary musician Taj Mahal and appeared on the live radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion. The band's new album, Leaving Eden, is set to be released on February 28, 2012.

It's great to see talented young musicians embracing traditional music forms and bringing it to a new generation of music listeners. Hopefully the band will inspire other young musicians to follow suit.

Purchase Leaving Eden at Amazon

Here's the band's old-time string treatment of Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)"

Their performance of Papa Charlie Jackson's "Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine"

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