Recently on the Music Fog pages, we have been talking about the melting pot that is American Music. Today we shine a light on another historical era, and I suspect many people don’t realize that this particular seminal contribution was brought to our shores from Africa. Yes of course there’s The Blues, and Jazz, but I am talking roots here. It was the Black String Bands that gave birth to Country and Bluegrass.
I’m sure you know that the banjo was exported from Africa, and along with it came a tradition of front porch picking that seeded what has become Americana Music. It was Fiddle, Banjo, and more stringed instruments were added. It is the blending of Black and White, of Native American and African and European sonic traditions. It is what ultimately caused the Big Bang that the world has come to identify as pure American music.
Today we bring you a 'for real' string band from NYC, and one of the last Black String Bands in America. I first saw the Ebony Hillbillies play a couple of years ago at Christmastime in the NYC subway. I was consumed with unbridled joy as their music hit my ears. I have been wanting to film them since then. There aren't many bands around still delivering this easy and authentic of a musical experience.
The Ebony Hillbillies are led by Henrique Prince (fiddle, vocals) and Norris Bennett (banjo, mountain dulcimer, guitar, vocals) and feature Gloria Thomas Gassaway on vocals and bones, William “Salty Bill” Salter on acoustic bass with A.R. and Newman Taylor Baker on washboard and percussion. They have a new live album about to arrive called Slappin’ A Rabbit - Live! Bassist Tony Garnier sat in with them for the Music Fog cameras. Pure joy. Here is an instrumental version of “I’d Rather Be.”
- Jessie Scott