Various Artists
Deep River of Song: Black Appalachia: String Bands, Songsters and Hoedowns
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Recorded in 1933-1946 for the Library of Congress under the editorship of John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax, this title presents an instructive historical comparison with Smithsonian Folkways' Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia (recorded 1974-1997). It offers 16 examples of African American string and washboard-accompanied music in Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas, a handful of hollers by prison singers, and more commercially oriented blues by Leadbelly, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. The Lomaxes sought to record surviving examples of African American fiddle, guitar and banjo playing, seeing these styles as major contributions to modern country and bluegrass music. Simultaneously, they sought to capture something of the older plantation strains informing blues, ragtime and jazz. Theopolis Stokes gave an early lesson in the rhythmic complexity of jazz in his dazzling solo, "Washboard Rhythm." He also set the cadence for the Nashville Washboard Band, whose "Soldier's Joy" and "Old Joe" are only two examples of the early and sustained melding of black and white string-dance music. The multi-instrumental Mississippi Delta artists Sid Hemphill and Lucius Smith combined their string repertoire with a panpipes-and-percussion genre reaching back to the martial music of colonial militias (e.g., "Devil's Dream," little resembling the tune most associate with the name). The latter tradition carries forward in the New Orleans second line, and in the precision dancing strut of such famed African American marching bands as Florida A&M University's (not coincidentally, the training ground for Nat and Cannonball Adderley). The album notes, by ethnomusicologist Stephen Wade, provide lyric transcriptions and extensive contextual commentary upon this essential survey of North American roots music. - Michael Stone

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