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When the Carolina Chocolate Drops formed in 2005, most people didn’t really associate old-time string band music with African-American culture. But over the better part of the last decade, the group introduced audiences around the world to that aspect of American roots music.

By 2013, Dom Flemons, one of Carolina Chocolate Drops’ founding members, had accomplished all that he wanted with the group and decided to part ways. He was at a creative crossroads.

“If you’ve got a band and a group name, then people can cling to that. If you’re just an individual, that’s a little trickier,” Flemons recalls. “For me, I had to figure out how I could create an idea that was going to be bigger than just myself as an individual.”

The concept Flemons arrived at was that of “The American Songster.” Songster, as Flemons describes it, is a term that predates genre labels like “blues” and “country,” which are often used as categories within American roots music. The word refers to performers who played music of different varieties that eventually developed into the forms that exist today.

After leaving Carolina Chocolate Drops, Flemons released a solo album, 2014’s Prospect Hill, and duo albums on which he collaborated with Piedmont blues guitarist Boo Hanks and English folk musician Martin Simpson.

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The Americana Music Association announced on Apr. 19 the first round of performers for the 2018 Americana Music Festival and Conference. Americanafest 2018 will be headed up by country-rock pioneers Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the annual Lee Ann Womack and Friends all-star jam, dobro master Jerry Douglas, and John Oates, one-half of the hit duo Hall & Oates.

The 74 acts announced represent less than a third of the over 250 acts expected to invade Nashville over the festival’s six days, and included a number of artists who have already released critically acclaimed new albums in 2018. These include Tommy Emmanuel, Mary Gauthier, Phil Madeira, and Caitlyn Canty.

For fans looking for legendary acts, Americanafest 2018 doesn’t disappoint. In addition to his solo set, Jerry Douglas will also perform a second time with his bluegrass supergroup The Earls of Leicester. Alt-country trailblazers Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ will also perform, as will Alejandro Escovedo, and Dom Flemons.

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It’s another edition of SongCraft Presents, creating a brand new song in a few hours in historic Macon, GA. In this segment, SongCraft’s Ben Arthur works with singer, songwriter and Grammy winning music historian Dom Flemons on a new song about one of Macon’s lost musical figures. Songwriting and recording took place in the beautifully restored Grand Opera House in Macon (see above), with the song premier at the legendary Capricorn Studio (see below).

Listen here.

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In the extensive and incredibly informative 40-page booklet that accompanies Dom Flemons latest album ‘Black Cowboys’ (Smithsonian Folkways), on which he pays tribute to the music, culture, and the complex history of the golden era of the Wild West.

 Musicians Brian Farrow and Dante Pope join Flemons in re-creations of images of iconic black cowboys accompanying two tracks including “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” The liner notes for the song (also Song of the Day) explain: “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” is a favorite of the old-time string bands. Square dance music was a big part of the cowboy’s life on the range when the instruments and the players were available. In an article written for the Saturday Evening Post in 1925, Will C. Barnes explained, “In the early days of the open range, with plenty of open saloons, every drinking place had a singer or two to attract customers and liven up matters. Often they were women who sang in shrill, quavery voices, some highly sentimental, some sacred and many vulgar. The most satisfactory of these saloon singers were colored men, mostly from Texas, who played guitars, banjos or the violin, and sometimes possessed really musical voices. These singers did much toward keeping up the range songs and spreading them through the cow country.”

Read more here.

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Photo: Timothy Duffy

Grammy Award-winning folk singer Dom Flemons talks about his latest album, Black Cowboys, and debuts his latest music video, “Goin’ Down The Road.“

Years in the making, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Dom Flemons’ historically rich new album, Black Cowboys, is finally out.

The album, which is on the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label, pays tribute to the music, culture, and complex history of the Wild West. “The songs and poems featured on the album take the listener on an illuminating journey from the trails to the rails of the Old West,” the label explains. “This century-old story follows the footsteps of the thousands of African American pioneers who helped build the United States of America.”

At 60 minutes, with a 40-page booklet with extensive notes and photos, it was a labor-intensive labor of love for the Arizona native. It’s Flemons’ second solo project since leaving the Carolina Chocolate Drops, which he co-founded in 2005. The group garnered major success and received a Grammy in 2010 for Best Traditional Folk Album for Genuine Negro Jig, a Grammy nomination in 2013 for Best Folk Album for Leaving Eden, and was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.

After 9 years in the group, Flemons left to begin his solo career; he came out with his first solo album, Prospect Hill, in mid-2014 and began paving his new road.

Read more here.

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In the extensive and incredibly informative 40-page booklet that accompanies Dom Flemonslatest album ‘Black Cowboys’ (Smithsonian Folkways), on which he pays tribute to the music, culture, and the complex history of the golden era of the Wild West, he quotes from an interview with professor and author Mike Searles from a 2010 NPR interview:

“Many people see the West as the birthplace of America. If they only see it as the birthplace of white America, it means basically that all other people are interlopers—they’re not part of what makes an American. But if they understand that African Americans were cowboys, even Native Americans were cowboys, Mexicans were cowboys, it really opens the door for us to think about America as a multiethnic, multiracial place. Not just in the last decade or century, but from the very beginning.”

The liner notes are filled with history and some incredible images, some of which are family photos from Dom Flemons’s personal collection, historical photos from various archives, and tintype photographs shot by Timothy Duffy including one of Dom’s wife Vania Kinard who “brings to life a striking black western woman.”

Read more here.