Metro Weekly

Black Bluegrass

Carolina Chocolate Drops drum up interest in little-known genre

The black string music tradition predates the blues. It even influenced and echoes what is today commonly known as traditional folk and bluegrass.

But don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it. Even one of today’s most popular practitioners of what you might call black bluegrass only discovered it less than a decade ago. And to think Rhiannon Giddens’s family is from the same town in North Carolina where one of the genre’s greatest fiddlers lived.

Carolina Chocolate Drops

Carolina Chocolate Drops

”It just goes to show how underground it’s been,” Giddens says. ”Now it’s definitely getting a bigger profile, and that’s really great.”

Giddens is leading that charge as the lead singer and multi-instrumentalist of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Formed in 2005, the jam band won a Grammy for its brilliant 2010 set Genuine Negro Jig — in the Traditional Folk Album category. The band works to entice more people to the genre by performing in schools and finding other ways to drum up interest especially in the African-American community. Genuine Negro Jig, for example, even included a dazzling cover of Blu Cantrell’s bawdy 2001 hip-hop hit ”Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops!).”

Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.