Dom Flemons grew up in Arizona, where barbecue pits and shops called Strictly Western dot the landscape and more than 600 rodeos take place every year. He watched Western movies, but as a black kid, didn’t see himself in them. Flemons grew up to become a leader in 21st-century folk music, co-founding the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a string band that revolutionized the folk world by showing old-timey music’s African roots.

After leaving that group, Flemons explored various other musical byroads before setting his sights on the West of his youth and discovering an obscured but rich legacy of music made by and about black cowboys. His latest album, Black Cowboys, uncovers the connections between classic songs like “Home on the Range” and the blues of the Texas-Lousiana border; tells the tales of real-life superheroes like Bass Reeves, the first black U.S. Marshal in the West; and re-envisions the West as a key landing place for black people starting new lives after their emancipation from slavery. What emerges within this music is a vision of a West that was never just a preserve of men who looked like John Wayne, but instead was dynamically diverse — Latinx, Native and black as well as white.

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Ten years ago, D.C. musician Dom Flemons was traveling to visit family back home in Arizona when he pulled over to a gift shop at the side of Route 66. While looking around, something caught his eye.

Sitting on the shelf was The Negro Cowboys, a 1965 history novel written by UCLA professors Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones. As he skimmed through it, Flemons was introduced to a world he never knew existed.

“Philip Durham was an English teacher, and discovered statistics showing that about one-fourth of the cowboys that settled the West were African American cowboys,” said Flemons. “Being a big fan of country music and cowboy music in Arizona, I was surprised to see this because I hadn’t seen much imagery of black cowboys in mainstream movies or music.”

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Black cowboys may not be the first thing that comes to mind when the Wild West is mentioned, but they were prevalent and left an undeniable impact on the development of the American West. Following the end of the Civil War in the late 1860s, thousands of newly-freed African Americans moved westward to start new lives. Some chose the grueling and often dangerous path of becoming a cowboy, an occupation in which work ethic mattered more than skin color. These pioneers worked long, hard days alongside Mexican vaqueros, Native Americans, and white cowboys and often turned to song for comfort on the trails.

The newly released Black Cowboys featuring co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons (aka “The American Songster”), places these often forgotten pioneers of the Old West in the spotlight. Produced by Flemons and Dan Sheehy for Smithsonian Folkways as part of its African American Legacy series, the album pays tribute to the music, poetry, and complex history of these cowboys. The accompanying 40 page booklet includes essays by Flemons (on the cowboy’s music) and Jim Griffith (on the history of Black cowboys), as well as detailed notes on each track complemented by many archival photographs.

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In conjunction with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings’ 70th anniversary comes a collection of African American cowboy songs titled Black Cowboys. The almost legendary interpreter to such anthems in this collection is none other than founding Carolina Chocolate Drop and historian, scholar, collector, artist, and anthropologist Dom Flemons – a fine picker and songman in his own right. You may have caught him on television in his role as Joe Hill Louis, Bebop Boy, on CMT’s Sun Records or heard the phenomenal Chocolate Drops out of North Carolina before he struck out on his solo career back in 2013.

On this project, Flemons curates and emulates African American frontiersmen’s traditional songs as well as offering his own recreations of that era of songcraft. From the field holler album opener of “Black Women,” Flemons’ intent is apparent. He lives and breathes his art. This is an audible extension of the heart and soul and wonders within, a desire to capture the lifebeat of the original arrangement and melodies of songs that were one of the only forms of entertainment at the time. Flemons dreamt up the idea after chancing upon “The Negro Cowboys” on his own pilgrimage of sorts while driving from North Carolina to his home state of Arizona back in 2016.

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This week I’m excited to bring you two new recordings, first from Grammy Award winner Dom Flemons “The American Songster”, secondly from new artist AJ Ghent, who features a intriguing fusion of Blues, Funk, Pop, with a little Prince thrown in. We also celebrate some Blues birthdays; Lightnin Hopkins and Marcia Ball. Truly this Blues gumbo is another fantastic example of JumpBlues! For more, click here.

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PLATTSBURGH — Artists of the North Country have a new voice with North Volume — a website “dedicated to all things artistic.”

“I’m friends with a lot of musicians, and one thing that has been a problem is not having the outlets to be heard,” founder and co-owner Damian Battinelli said. “That got me thinking.”

He brought the idea to the attention of friends Tom Gerner and Tracy Gryger, who went all in by funding the initial endeavor, which included the creation of a recording studio and web hosting.

North Volume’s lone part-time employee, Producer and Studio Manager Jarred Vislocky, records and edits all the podcasts and maintains the website. Otherwise, the show guests and hosts are all volunteers.

“We’re all doing it for the love of it,” Vislocky said.

The recording studio is located at Damian’s In Tandem Productions photography studio on Court Street.

Read more here.

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Editor’s note: Free Times arts and entertainment editor Jordan Lawrence curated this year’s Indie Grits music lineup. In the interests of transparency and fairness, he will not be involved with Free Times’ coverage of the festival. If you have any questions, please contact editor Eva Moore at editor@free-times.com.

Although music has been a featured component of each iteration of the Indie Grits festival since its birth in 2007, DIY film screenings have always been the central component of the Nickelodeon Theatre-created arts celebration, even as the festival has added offerings ranging from visual art and puppet slams to comedy and video games and dropped the “film” modifier from their name.

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Music will be playing every night of the festival, opening with Love, Grits, & Hip Hop, 7 p.m.-1 a.m. on April 12 at Tapp’s Art Center. Deniro Farrar will headline the Skyline Room and indie rock and dance pop will be featured in the Space Hall and Fountain Room.

Friday, the party expands to Main Street Public House with blue,girl, Sequoyah, and Boulevards; while Black Tusk, King Vulture and Dear Blanca are among the acts playing at Tapp’s.

Saturday gets you experimental music by Jphono1 at Tapp’s and punk Danger Boy at Main Street Public House.

Sunday ends with a Sunday Dinner on Monticello Road, near Hyatt Park, hosted by Fat Rat Da Czar and Grammy Award winning folk star (and founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) Dom Flemons.

Check out complete schedules and ticket information at indiegrits.org

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Dom Flemons is a fount of knowledge about all kinds of music, but most importantly, he has enriched the world with his thorough and entertaining tales about the American Songster tradition.  Dom has dug deep into music and has taken his role seriously.  His shows are not only impressive from a musical standpoint, but he gives the audience a lot to think about—how this traditional music of the past influences today’s culture.  Dom is a master at what he does.  He’s a multi-instrumentalist, prolific songwriter and outstanding researcher, and an incredible presence on stage.

Dom Flemons is appearing at the me&thee coffeehouse in Marblehead, MA. He will also be sharing his talent and musical wisdom with the fourth and fifth graders in Marblehead due to the generosity of the me&thee and the Newport Festivals Foundation.

To learn more about Dom, visit his website.

Here’s a video of Dom from the Folk Alley studios.

Read more here.

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