Music fans know that American blues music is rooted in West Africa. Less well-known are the African roots of old-time and its musical cousin, bluegrass.
From Oct. 7 through Nov. 19, Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation will present an exhibit titled “From Africa to Appalachia: Roots of Old-time and Bluegrass Music. ” The exhibit will be housed in the main galleries of the Alexander Black House, 204 Draper Road in Blacksburg.
Admission is free. The exhibit hours will be Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Old-time music is a genre of North American folk music, developing along with various North
American folk dances, such as square dancing, clogging, and buck dancing. Old-Time music got its start on the gourd banjos of African slaves and then intertwined with the Scots-Irish folk tunes brought into the Appalachian regions. Through the exhibit, the museum will honor that complex musical history and the profound influences of African Americans on not just blues and jazz, but also old-time, bluegrass and country music.
“I became aware of this lost musical history while at a concert featuring the original Carolina Chocolate Drops,” said museum curator Janean Williams. “The group’s musicians, Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, and Justin Robinson shared the history of African music and African American influences in the beginnings of the musical genre. I grew up knowing it as hillbilly music,” Williams said. “ I was stunned. As a native of Floyd County, I was surrounded by this music my entire life, yet had no idea of its roots. I am thrilled to now share this history through our exhibit.”
In conjunction with the exhibit, the museum will present music programming, lectures, and a
showing of the film “Black Fiddlers.”
Schedule of Events at the Alexander Black House:
- Oct. 14, 6:00 to 7:15 p.m. Earl White presents a lecture on the History of Blacks in Old-Time,
with a musical demonstration and a Q&A section at the end.
- Oct. 19, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Old-Time Music Jam. Museum visitors may bring their instruments or come to listen in.
- Oct. 21, 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Patrick Salmons, professor with Virginia Tech’s Department of Religion and Culture, will give a lecture on how African Americans were pushed out of “hillbilly” music by distributors and labels, the discrimination they faced, and how this genre’s full history is being rediscovered in the modern day.
- Nov. 3, 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. Corbin Hayslett, manager of County Sales Music Store in Floyd will speak on the African American influence on old-time, focusing on local musicians.
- Nov. 10, 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. “Black Fiddlers” documentary, tracing the personal and family stories of violin players of African descent in New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Texas,
Missouri, and as far as Oregon during the Indian Wars and the Gold Rush. Inspired by the legacy of Joe and Odell Thomson, documentary director Eduardo Montes-Bradley reached out to musicians Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson from The Carolina Chocolate Drops and old-time fiddler Earl White to reconstruct three hundred years of Black music with the help of local historians, academics, and award-winning authors like Kip Lornell and John J. Sullivan. https://www.heritagefilmproject.com/blackfiddlers.