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Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Sweet Old-time Sound

Fiddle and banjo music today can seem antiquated, pulled from a time capsule of early Americana, but the Carolina Chocolate Drops want you to know they are more than just a young band with an old-time sound.

“We don’t really want to be a museum piece,” explains Rhiannon Giddens, a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, whose name pays homage to Howard Armstrong’s 1920s string band, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops were formed seven years ago after Gibbons met Dom Flemons at a Black Banjo Gathering in North Carolina. There they met some of their inspirational musicians such as Joe Thompson and Algie Mae Hinton and decided to recreate and reinterpret the old-time sound while emphasizing the role that African-Americans played in creating the genre.

Their sound carries deep roots of Southern tradition, culture and American history, and as one of the few African-American string bands performing today, their audiences also learn about a part of musical and racial history often overlooked.

“It really is a synthesis of these different cultures thrown together for whatever reason,” says Giddens, “and the history of the banjo and of string band music really delves into that deeper than say, blues or jazz….It really just kind of shakes up your assumptions.”

In 2010, the Drops’ “Genuine Negro Jig” won a Grammy for best traditional folk album. Their follow-up album, “Leaving Eden,” was released in February.

Art Beat spoke with Giddens and Flemons after a recent performance at the Library of Congress. See our interview above, and watch a clip of their performance below:

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