Joe Thompson

Early in her music career, banjo player Rhiannon Giddens was a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an old-time string band that won a Grammy in 2010 for their album, Genuine Negro Jig.

From yesterday’s post, Margaret Hoover asked her Firing Line guest about meeting Joe Thompson (1918-2012). He was “a fiddle player who was one of the last living performers carrying on black string band traditions.” It was 2005. Thompson was 86. Giddens was 28. She called his influence “foundational” for her identity as an artist. Hoover asked, “What did you learn from him?”

Giddens replied, “Oh, some things that I can put into words and some things that I probably won’t ever be able to put into words.” Thompson was “an actual living proponent of a tradition, an elder…. Joe was a community musician …. he was in service to his community. And so the idea of music as service” was imparted to the Carolina Chocolate drops (Rhiannon, Justin Robinson and Dom Flemons) “by sitting at his knee.” The group asked themselves, “How can we be of service with this music?” Giddens said, “I really think that playing with Joe and learning from Joe was … why that was our part of our identity.”

Joe, as musician, was in service to his community. When I think of the long story of racism or the horrific brutality occurring now in Ukraine, I have no words. I’m not sure anyone does. Music can help.

Tomorrow: The power of music to heal.

From “It’s time to honor legendary musician Joe Thompson who linked past and future,” by Madison Taylor, Madison’s Avenue, March 6, 2018

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