29 September 2020

A crossroads? Part 1 of a series

The BIB editor writes:

Fifty-five years ago the blues singer and activist Barbara Dane mentioned in Sing Out! magazine that very few young blacks joined the folk scene, and put some of the blame on "the pre-eminent interest in the old-time Southern white sound which can only recall for these young people a time of pain without end".

Three years ago Rhiannon Giddens presented in her keynote address at the IBMA's 2017 business conference a vision that offered both challenge and hope, arguing that ethnic groups in the southern United States had a shared musical heritage and repertoire, despite a music industry that had segregated it into 'hillbilly' for whites and 'race music' or 'blues' for blacks. Bluegrass emerged from this sharing of music - it was "a creole music that comes from many influences – a beautiful syncretisation of the cultures that call this country home".

Giddens's address is often cited today, but the tensions of 2020 have brought back in some degree the tone of Dane's words. Statements have been made that raise fundamental questions affecting the playing today of what we call 'old-time' music (and by extension, impinge on bluegrass as well).

FOAOTMAD, the UK's organisation for old-time music and dance, has consequently devoted much of the latest issue of its magazine Old Time News (issue 103, autumn 2020) to these questions. The editor, Steve Wise, writes:

There is no escaping the fact that the music we play and love does have a darker side to its history and this is explored in a feature article by Tatiana Hargreaves which urges us all to think more deeply about the role of racism in the history of old-time. She has provided links to reading which explore these issues in more depth and I would encourage everyone to take a look at these.

I would similarly encourage reading them, but with a warning that no one (however worthy their cause) gets everything right, and some of what is said there has conspicuous flaws. I shall therefore offer my comments in a series of posts over the next few days. The first will consider the case against playing 'Turkey in the straw'.
*
Barbara Dane, 'The Chambers Brothers do that real thing', Sing Out!, xv, no. 4 (Sept. 1965), pp 22-4.

'Rhiannon Giddens Keynote Address – IBMA Business Conference 2017' (with introduction by Robert Povelones), https://ibma.org/rhiannon-giddens-keynote-address-2017/

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1 Comments:

At 10:48 am, Blogger William D said...

Thank you for this, Richard. As an old frailer who has only ever happily played tunes for the joy of the music and camaraderie (in many different settings with wonderful musicians from every background - including your good self) I do have difficulty with some of the opinions emerging from various quarters these days. Your "take" on this is helpful.

 

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