Volume 2 : African American Music
  Chapter 1. Black Banjo Songsters of NC and VA
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Audio Examples

Coo Coo
Dink Roberts "caught" this song when he was sixteen from a young man who used to come from Greensboro to play for parties in the mill town of Glen Raven. Dink observes that he plays the piece a little differently from Tommy Thompson, who like many revivalists follows the version set so indelibly by Tom Ashley. This is a fine example of Dink at his best - playful, inventive, and attuned to the immediate audience, with spoken asides and a vocal that soars over the top of the banjo part. Dink was also a wonderfully competent guitar player, born into the generation that bridged the transition from pre-blues banjo to early blues guitar.
Performed by Dink Roberts on his banjo on February 21, 1974.
(Smithsonian Folkways Recordings album # Folkways 40079 1998)

John Henry
This song is known to many Black banjo players and found in standard collections. In contrast to Dink's clawhammer or picking style, his son James plays this piece on his father's banjo in a beautifully fluid and syncopated style which combines clawhammer-like down-stroking using his index finger on the first string with a two-finger Piedmont guitar-style thumb lead on the bass strings.
Performed by James Roberts on February 21, 1974.
(Smithsonian Folkways Recordings album # Folkways 40079 1998)

Going Where I've Never Been Before
This song is a sequence of emotional core lines about a lover moving on. Each line is repeated once, and the stanzas are improvisationally varied. The form suggests that banjo's influence on the composition of the earliest recorded blues, which repeated one line over and over. In the earlier context of slavery, the laments in the short song lines "baby. Baby, you are no more mine" or "I heard my darling calling me" could echo the heartbreak of lovers being sold and torn apart. Performed by John Snipes (clawhammer banjo and vocal)(Smithsonian Folkways Recordings album # Folkways 40079 1998)

Little Brown Jug
Here Odell Thompson has a chance to display some spirited "hambone patting," backed by his cousin Joe's fiddle and Tommy Thompson's melodic-style clawhammer banjo. The performance has a gleeful air of appropriate to the subject of the tune, which was first published in 1849.
Performed by Joe Thompson (fiddle), Odell Thompson (patting hambone) and Tommy Thompson (banjo) on February 24, 1974).
(Smithsonian Folkways Recordings album # Folkways 40079 1998)

Notes provided here are taken from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings liner notes for the album titled Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia. The album was produced and annotated by Cece Conway and Scott Odell. Musical examples were taken from the same album.

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