Carolina Chocolate Drops

Location: R.A. Fountain

From the January 16, 2007 FAD:

Based out of Durham, the Chocolate Drops are one of North Carolina’s hottest new bands. They recently completed a tour opening for blues legend Taj Mahal, and they will leave after their Fountain show for New York City, where they will be featured at the 4th annual GlobalFest, an international festival of roots and world music. Their 2007 schedule has them booked from coast-to-coast in the U.S., including a slot at this year’s MerleFest.

The trio performs old-time string music that was popular in the piedmont regions of the Carolinas and Virginia through the 1930s. They are named in homage to the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, a popular African-American string band fronted by Howard Armstrong, also known as Louie Bluie, during the 1920s.

Rhiannon Giddens plays banjo, fiddle, and sings, Justin Robinson plays banjo and fiddle and sings, and multi-instrumentalist Dom Plemons plays–depending on the tune–everything from guitar to jug to harmonica to fife.

Giddens grew up in Greensboro, where she recalls singing folk music with her father and listening to country music with her mother’s side of the family: “And both my grandmothers loved ‘Hee-Haw.'”

As a student at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio she majored in voice, and she still performs operatic selections as one half of the duo Eleganza.

Robbins, also a native North Carolinian, played classical violin from the age of 9 to 13. His interest in old-time music has been greatly influenced by Joe Thompson, the Mebane fiddler whose career has spanned 70 years. Plemons grew up in Phoenix, Arizona; his musical roots include Ma Rainey, the Beatles, and the Band.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops was formed last year after its members all met at a black banjo players meeting and conference held in Boone at Appalachian State University 

“We’re lucky to have booked them last summer, soon after they formed,” said Alex Albright, Fountain General Store Proprietor. “This is a band that our bluegrass audiences should really love, too.” [We were also fortunate that they honored this gig.] 

Unlike old-time mountain music, in which the banjo plays mostly rhythm, old-time piedmont music uses the banjo as well as the fiddle to play leads, Albright noted: “Much of it has a bluegrass feel to it, and all three of them are excellent musicians.

“They’re enthusiastic performers, too. They dress in period clothes and their shows feature dancing in an experience that’s theatrical, musical, educational–and a lot of fun.”

The Carolina Chocolate Drops January 19 performance begins at 7:30. General admission is $5; reserved seats are $7.



Tags: Appalachian, Concert, country, folk, old-time, original