As I was reading the latest issue of Vibe Magazine, I was introduced to a North Carolina based folk music group – the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I decided to do a little investigation and found out that the group is a part of an old North Carolina musical tradition.
North Carolina is known for having a musical tradition steeped in old-time music, a form of North American folk music, with roots in the folk musics of many countries, including England, Scotland, Ireland and countries in Africa. In fact, slave musicians in North Carolina and throughout the nation were often responsible for providing dance music for both white and African American social gatherings.
String bands were formed to accompany the social dancing. After slaves were given their freedom, small communities of blacks began to form in the North Carolina Piedmont region. Several African American fiddler bands still play today, including Durham, North Carolina’s own Carolina Chocolate Drops.
The band formed in November 2005 after the band’s members attended the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina. The group has three members: Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, and Justin Robinson.
All of the musicians sing, and trade instruments including banjo, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, snare drum, bones, jug, and kazoo. The group learned much of their repertoire, which is based on the traditional music of the Piedmont region of North and South Carolina, from the eminent African American old-time fiddler Joe Thompson.
The group has released at least three CDs (in 2006, 2008, and 2010), and has opened for Taj Mahal. They have also performed on Mountain Stage and at the Mount Airy Fiddlers Convention. Additionally they have performed on Fresh Air and BBC Radio in early 2010.
Below, the Chocolate Drops perform outside Wilson Library at UNC Chapel Hill.