Early in November, the Southern Folklife Collection wrapped up its two-part Folk Legacy Series celebrating great legacies in American vernacular music. The series was sponsored through generous support from the Martin Guitar Charitable Foundation.
In “Boom Boom! The Music of John Lee Hooker,” Alvin Youngblood Hart and Bobby Rush both gave foot stomping performances to boogie along to, and then, in a lively discussion with Wayne Goins, reflected on the career and influence of Hooker.
Our first event of the fall — “Won’t You Come and Sing For Me? The Music of Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard” — featured a set from Tatiana Hargreaves and Alison DeGroot, followed by Dudley Connell and Sally Love Connell. The evening finished with a roundtable discussion led by Laurie Lewis, and involving Gerrard, Peter Siegel – producer of the first Hazel & Alice record — Hargreaves, DeGroot, and Connell.
We are very excited for next week’s Czech Bluegrass Residency – Banjo Romantika at UNC and Chapel Hill, February 8-10, 2018. See the complete schedule of events, including performances, film screening, and banjo workshop below.
Czech bluegrass might seem like a contradiction, but work by musician and ethnomusicologist Dr. Lee Bidgood and banjo virtuoso Richard Ciferský shows how this music that emerged from post-WWII America has come to flourish in the heart of Europe. Bidgood and Ciferský are bringing their research and music to UNC Chapel Hill for a special three-day residency.
The residency will feature a screening of Banjo Romantika, a feature length documentary film that Bidgood co-produced with filmmaker Shara Lange,at the Nelson Mandela Auditorium in the FedEx Global Education Center on UNC’s campus. Dr. Bidgood (East Tennessee State University) will discuss the film briefly at the screening.
Based on Bidgood’s fieldwork in the Czech Republic, the documentary explores the Czech musicians’ lives, connections to bluegrass, and understanding of their culture as they blend and reimagine a style imported from beyond the Iron Curtain in the 1950s and cultivate it as their own. Music in the film includes live concert and festival recordings, field recordings of jams and interviews, studio recordings. The film incorporates additional footage with Slovak banjo standout Richard Ciferský and faculty from the East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program including Dan Boner, Ed Snodderly, and contemporary mandolin master Adam Steffey.
A Chapel Hill native, Bidgood graduated from Chapel Hill High School then received a degree in viola performance at UNC Chapel Hill. While a student, he played mandolin with Steep Canyon Rangers during their early years. Bidgood traveled to the Czech Republic on a student Fulbright grant, and completed a PhD from the University of Virginia with a dissertation based on his fieldwork in the Czech Republic. Bidgood’s book, Czech Bluegrass: Notes from the Heart of Europe, was published in 2017 by University of Illinois Press. He also reaches audiences through his radio show on global country music, “Over the Waves,” that is broadcast on Bristol, VA station WBCM.
Richard Ciferský, born in Pezinok, Slovakia, brings a lifetime of musical experience that seems far greater than his age. He first encountered bluegrass through a scout troop. His first instrument was a guitar, but he soon switched to banjo and started playing in bands. Richard co-founded the Slovak Bluegrass Association (SkBMA) in 1999 and served as its president from 2000 to 2005. He has toured in Europe and the US and recorded with artists including The Chapmans, Dale Ann Bradley, and Becky Buller. Fluent in both traditional and progressive styles, his technique is dazzling, and his soulful expression runs deep.
In addition to events on campus, Bidgood and Ciferský will visit the Czech and Slovak School of North Carolina on Saturday morning to meet with adults and children who are renewing their language skills, or are working to make new connections through this language and its related cultures.
The Czech Bluegrass Residency with Dr. Bidgood and Mr. Ciferský is organized as part of UNC’s Bluegrass Initiative to integrate the study and performance of this music into the curriculum and artistic life of UNC. This residency will be a terrific opportunity to hear about their work and their music, and experience their playing live. Bidgood recognizes that a global awareness was one of the things he drew from his own undergraduate education at UNC, and he is eager to provide a new sense of the global dimensions of bluegrass to current students: “Gaining a global perspective is an important part of the college education experience, and considering Czech Bluegrass provides us with new insights on the processes, the problems and promise, of globalization.” It is also a chance to experience some fascinating music!
UNC Events – Banjo Romantika Residency
Thursday, February 8, 2018
12:30 p.m. Masterclass and Lecture with MUSC 144 Students, hosted by Dr. Jocelyn Neal, UNC Chapel Hill Hanes Auditorium
Friday, February 9, 2018
7:00 p.m. Banjo Romantika Band with Richard Cifersky perform at Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe, 431 W Franklin St, Chapel Hill Free and open to the public.
Saturday, February 10, 2018
10:00 a.m. Visit to the Czech and Slovak School of North Carolina (contact: Marta McCabe: firstname.lastname@example.org)
2:00 p.m. Banjo Workshop with Richard Ciferský, UNC Chapel Hill, Person Recital Hall. Free and open to all banjo or bluegrass players.
4:00 p.m. Banjo Romantika, a film screening and Q&A with Dr. Bidgood, UNC Chapel Hill, Nelson Mandela Auditorium. Free and open to the public.
Sponsors: UNC Bluegrass Initiative Southern Folklife Collection Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures Czech and Slovak School of North Carolina
Life as a country musician has never been easy and Earl Scruggs spent grueling years on the road in the late 1940s pioneering the bluegrass sound with fellow road warriors Bill Monroe, Chubby Wise, Howard Watts, and Lester Flatt. After Flatt and Scruggs left the Blue Grass Boys in 1948, the popularity of Bluegrass music began to grow and through the resourceful management of Louise Certain, soon to be Louise Scruggs, the band secured the sponsorship of Martha White Flour and what was hopefully a more comfortable means of transportation. Still between radio performances, recording sessions, and live shows, the band often performed multiple times per day. The image below features The Foggy Mountain Boys on an unknown stage in the 1950s.
World renowned fiddler Kenneth Clayton Baker of Jenkins, Kentucky passed away on July 8, 2011. Master of the “long bow” style of bluegrass fiddling, Baker joined up with Bill Monroe in 1957, becoming the longest lasting member of The Bluegrass Boys when he left the group in 1984. Best known as a bluegrass fiddler, Baker’s reputation as a musician reached far beyond bluegrass into swing, country, and beyond, earning him a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1993. Baker’s influence on American music is immeasurable.
We are fortunate to hold a wide array of Baker’s recordings a the Southern Folklife Collection spanning his entire career, including his fantastic solo LPs of fiddle tunes recorded for the County label in the 1970s, like Dry and Dusty, call no. FC_4221, pictured above. The Becky Johnson Collection (#20405) includes some wonderfully candid performance photos of Baker and countless other bluegrass heroes, and the always astounding collection of materials assembled by the late Mike Seeger includes priceless recordings of performances by Baker and his fellow Bluegrass Boys.
While scanning through Seeger’s recordings, we came across a bluegrass fiddling workshop hosted by Seeger at Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom festival, 21 June 1969, call no. FT_12857. In the two clips below, Baker first expresses his love for the fiddling of legendary jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, and in the second, we are treated to Baker’s rendition of the classic fiddle tune “Fisher’s Hornpipe.” May he rest in peace.