Carolina Chocolate Drops thought they had it made when they were picked to be in a movie with Denzel Washington. But the North Carolina trio's vision of black string band music from the 1930s caused some problems on the set of Washington's 2007 film The Great Debaters. "Our idea of what black string band music was in that era wasn't matching up with what their idea was," says Carolina Chocolate Drops founder/singer Rhiannon Giddens. The Drops had to fight to get the fiddle in "because Denzel had this idea that he didn't want it too country, even though we were in the backwoods of Louisiana." Nevertheless, audiences have no problem with the Drops' country sound, as the band continues to share its vision with an average of 200 booked gigs per year.
Giddens met future bandmates Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson in 2005 at the initial Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, N.C., a function created to enlighten the public about the banjo's African ancestry and its role in American music.
Mentored by 91-year-old black square dance fiddler Joe Thompson (who lives in a rural community near Giddens' home in Greensboro, N.C.), the Drops enthusiastically embrace the black string band tradition. But while they are avid disciples of Thompson, Giddens says the Drops don't just regurgitate what he does. "We try to get to the heart of it," she says, "let it be translated through us and pull it forward."
That often entails taking contemporary music and setting it back in time. Their latest Nonesuch label release, Genuine Negro Jig, produced by Joe Henry (Solomon Burke, Allen Toussaint) tackles Blu Cantrell's '07 banger "Hit 'Em Up Style." Unlike Cantrell's lush radio R&B version, the Carolina Chocolate Drops give it a Latin, gypsy-jazz feel, despite Robinson's country-style fiddle and Giddens' banjo chopping counterpoint.
Their interpretation of the music has brought them considerable exposure on NPR's "All Things Considered," "A Prairie Home Companion," and on the "Grand Ole Opry." Although their primary goal is to be a great, entertaining band, the Drops also educate audiences about black contributions to early Americana music. "If they know a little bit more than they did before," says Giddens, "that's like gravy."
Nashville has more dive bars than ATL now that sucks. tbh i think that new…
*Christ, Lord sorry
"Punk" style like this seems like it is the polar opposite of punk. Bradford Cox…
They're kind of starting to look like a joke of themselves. Song's good though.