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The Music Maker Relief Foundation turns 25 this year. And the organization is giving rather than getting the birthday presents.

After assisting more than 450 artists with living and health expenses, the nonprofit will commemorate its time with a variety of projects. The multi-artist Blue Muse compilation — which features tracks by Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, Dom Flemons and Robert Finley as well as Music Maker-assisted artists — arrives Feb. 1 (pre-order here) and is premiering exclusively below. A graphic novel Tales of the Music Makers, illustrated by the late Harvey Pekar, publishes during February as well, while Music Maker Timothy Duffy’s photo book Blue Muse comes out March 28, with a traveling exhibition opening April 25 at the New Orleans Museum of Art during the city’s Jazz & Heritage Festival. Music Makers will also have a presence at several other festivals this year.

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One of the first things Dom Flemons learned about when he began work on what would become the album “Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys” was the Chisholm Kid.

Flemons, who founded Grammy Award-winning string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, had got in touch with fellow musician Taj Mahal.

“In his early career, he had used a lot of black cowboy imagery,” Flemons said. “When I asked him what he thought about this project I had in mind, he taught me about ‘The Chisholm Kid’ — he grew up in Massachusetts, and ‘The Chisholm Kid’ was in the comic section of one of the newspapers his family would get.

“I didn’t pursue it that much at the time,” he said, “so it kind of blows my mind that I’m going to be doing the show in conjunction with an exhibit on ‘The Chisholm Kid.’ It’s really a neat kind of serendipity.”

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In March of 2018, Smithsonian Folkways issued a unique collection of music from former Carolina Chocolate Drops member Dom Flemons called Black Cowboys. Full of primitive country and folk songs, recitations of black cowboy poems, utilizing primitive instruments like cow bones, quills, and 4-string banjo, it was a deep reenactment of what you might have heard from African American trail riders and pioneers during American expansionism, including modes of music making, lyrical phrasing, and instrumentation that went on to influence Western music and country styles that traditionalists in the country genre still employ today.

Since the motivation of Dom Flemons was just as much archival as it was commercial, Black Cowboys flew somewhat under-the-radar, unless you were looking for such a thing. But these types of projects play a pivotal role in keeping important traditions of country music alive. Fellow Carolina Chocolate Drops member Rhiannon Giddens has a similar project on the way called Songs of Our Native Daughters that will be released by Smithsonian Folkways on February 22nd. A collaboration with fellow female African American roots performers Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah, the album is said to portray the often overlooked suffering, resilience, and agency of black women during the slave era.

For many years, the influence and contributions of African American musicians in country music went mostly overlooked, or overshadowed by their Caucasian counterparts. Blues and country harmonica player DeFord Bailey wasn’t just the first black performer on the Grand Ole Opry, he was the first performer to ever be introduced on the radio program that they called “The Grand Ole Opry.” On December 10th, 1927, NBC radio announcer George D. Hay informed listeners that the previously-known “Barn Dance” program would henceforth be known as “The Grand Ole Opry.” The very next performer that aired was DeFord.

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The complete list of 40th Blues Music Award nominees can be found below as well as on The Blues Foundation’s website. A ballot will be sent soon to all Blues Foundation members, who have the privilege of deciding which artists will go home with a Blues Music Award in May. Blues Foundation membership remains open through the entire voting period, which ends at 11:59 p.m. CT on February 28. Ballots are sent to all current members and to new members after they join the organization, which can be done easily by clicking on the “Join Now” button found at the website.

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GREENSBORO — Add another major credit to Isaac Powell’s resume.

“Once On This Island,” the Broadway show in which the Greensboro native plays the lead male character, has received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Musical Theater Album.

Nominations were announced Friday morning, and “Once On This Island” was among five albums nominated in the category.

The 61st annual Grammy Awards will be presented on Feb. 10 in Los Angeles.

In June, the drama won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

“Once on This Island” follows Ti Moune, a peasant girl in the French Antilles who falls in love with Daniel, a wealthy boy from the other side of the island.

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Dom Flemons‘ latest album, Black Cowboys, is a collection of seldom-heard stories about the roles African-Americans played in settling the West after America’s Civil War. The album’s inspiration came during a road trip back home where the fifth generation Arizonan became enamored with an obscure collection of stories.

“I came across a book called The Negro Cowboys that talked about how one in four cowboys who helped settle the West were African-American cowboys,” Flemons, a co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, says. “And being an African-American person that’s half-African-American, half-Mexican-American from the Southwest, I just found that to be a fascinating story.”

Now, the album has earned Flemons a 2019 Grammy nomination in the category of best folk album.

Many songs on Black Cowboys will be new to most listeners, but a handful, like Flemons’ rendition of “Home on the Range,” are instantly recognizable. Flemons presents a new image of the American cowboy — one that isn’t exclusively white.

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The Yadkin Arts Council and the Blue Ridge Music Center will present Dom Flemons and Big Ron Hunter at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 5 at Willingham Theater, Yadkin Cultural Arts Center, 226 E. Main St., Yadkinville

The concert will kick off the partners’ fourth annual Sounds of the Mountain series.

Grammy Award-winner Flemons is known as “The American Songster,” because his repertoire covers nearly 100 years of American folklore, ballads and tunes. He is a music scholar, historian, record collector and a multi-instrumentalist. Flemons is considered an expert player on the banjo, fife, guitar, harmonica, percussion, quills, and rhythm bones.

In 2005, he co-founded the Carolina Chocolate Drops with Rhiannon Giddens, and the group won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk in 2010. Flemons has performed with Taj Mahal, Old Crow Medicine Show, Guy Davis, Joe Thompson and Boo Hanks. In 2014, he released a critically acclaimed solo album, “Prospect Hill,” through Music Maker Relief Foundation where Flemons serves as a member and board member.

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The Yadkin Arts Council, in partnership with the Blue Ridge Music Center, will kick off the fourth annual 2019 Sounds of the Mountain series with Grammy Award Winner Dom Flemons. Flemons is known as “The American Songster” since his repertoire of music covers nearly 100 years of American folklore, ballads, and tunes. He is a music scholar, historian, record collector, and a multi-instrumentalist. Flemons is considered an expert player on the Banjo, fife, guitar, harmonica, percussion, quills, and rhythm bones.

Flemons rise to fame started in 2005 when his co-founded group, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk in 2010. Since winning a Grammy, Flemons has shared the stage with other Grammy Award Winning musicians, such as, Taj Mahal, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Guy Davis, and performed with influential traditional music masters like Joe Thompson and Boo Hanks. He has performed as a soloist at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Grand Ole Opry, at some of America’s most renowned festivals like National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and the Newport Folk Festival, and for the Opening Ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. In 2017, Flemons was featured on David Holt’s State of Music on PBS and performed as bluesman Joe Hill Louis on CMT’s original hit television show Sun Records. Among many other accomplishments, in 2014, he released a critically acclaimed solo album Prospect Hill through Music Maker Relief Foundation where Flemons serves as a member and board member.

Read more here. 

 

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2018 was a banner year for traditional music, fueled in part by new artists coming into the Smithsonian Folkways fold (Dom Flemons, Kaia Kater, Anna & Elizabeth, Lula Wiles), but also by the rise of more next-generation artists across the board, many of whom had refreshingly different takes on their traditions. “Trad” as a genre is ill-defined, but has been used as a term informally for years to tie together a variety of musical traditions, from Appalachian old-time to New England contra dance, Cajun dancehall songs, Scottish fiddle and bagpipes, or foot-tapping French-Canadian music and more. It’s most often used for Irish traditional music, but it’s a useful term for talking about music that has deep roots and the weight of old traditions, and is made my artists who respect where the music comes from as much as they look forward to helping guide it forward. Here’s my top picks for trad albums of 2018 across a variety of different traditions.

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My dear slow burners,

A kind suggestion, courtesy of 2018’s favorite grungily tragic rock hero: Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die. When Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine first sings his Jason Isbell–penned signature ballad in A Star Is Born: Gaga Edition, he offers it to a quietly swooning drag queen in the bar where he’s just met Ally, his soulmate and undoing, as he waits for her to take off her makeup and begin rearranging his life. For Maine, it’s long past time: His addictions to various chemicals, and to the toxic rock ’n’ roll mythologies that keep him on the road playing music he seems to despise, prove stronger than the sensuality and enthusiasm that Ally embodies. Yet, gazing into the eyes of the self-possessed queen Emerald, Cooper’s Maine clearly accepts the polymorphous, femme-driven future the drag bar represents; it’s one of the movie’s sharpest intertextual moments. It was Cooper’s exquisitely gentle rendition of the song that lingered in my mind after I left the theater, and it felt like a blessing: Official music culture ushering in a new era, one that’s grounded in gender equality, instead of old jokes about little schoolgirls and dirty whores, and in explorations of desire and identity that mirror the more fluid attitudes of Gen Z.

Read more here.