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BLACK FIDDLERS

AN AMERICAN TRADITION

Rita Dove

Black Fiddlers explores the profound legacy of African Americans who have indelibly shaped the cultural landscape of American folklore. Director Eduardo Montes-Bradley delves into the personal and family stories of violin players of African descent across the United States, uncovering common threads and rich through lines that weave their histories together. Over a period of two years, the film was shot on location in diverse settings, including Harlem, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Texas, Oregon, and Ohio.

Notable performers such as David Roberts, Earl White, and Rhiannon Giddens share their individual journeys and music, providing a powerful and personal touch. Local historians and academics contribute scholarly perspectives that deepen and enrich the understanding and appreciation of American Folk music and culture. This compelling documentary aims to offer the first comprehensive account of America’s rich musical history as told by Black fiddlers today.

Montes-Bradley’s perspective on the history of Black fiddlers in North America is part of his lifelong interest in the cultural traditions of the African diaspora throughout the Americas. His exploration spans from the introduction of the violin by Jesuit missionaries in the missions of Argentina and Paraguay to the origins of Samba and Carnival in the northeastern region of Brazil. "Black Fiddlers" looks beyond the repertoire and music to examine social interactions, particularly during the colonial period and before Emancipation.

The film presents the idea that the violin was not merely an instrument of music but also a means of economic and social advancement for the enslaved men and women. In multiple instances, it served as a lifeline for those who escaped captivity, enabling them to survive and even thrive in free states such as Ohio, and beyond in Wisconsin and Canada. One compelling example is Easton H. Jefferson, the son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, who after gaining his freedom, built a life for himself and his family and established a reputation as a distinguished musician.

Black Fiddlers aspires to illuminate these powerful stories, showcasing how the violin has been both a symbol and a tool of resilience, creativity, and cultural continuity for African Americans throughout history. HD | 60 minutes. ​

HERITAGE FILM PROJECT + EARLY MUSIC ACCESS PROJECT present BLACK FIDDLERS

a documentary film by EDUARDO MONTES-BRADLEY  

 

Development was made possible with financial support from

The Joseph & Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation

Early Music Access Project and Individual Contributions 

executive producers

David McCORMICK + Soledad LIENDO

written, narrated, edited, and directed by

Eduardo MONTES-BRADLEY

principal consultants

Marshall WYATT Jeffrey PLANK Guille MEALLA

Jacqueline C. DJEDJE Kip LORNELL Loren LUDWIG David McCORMICK

in order of appearance

Kip LORNELL Iris CHAPMAN THOMPSON  Travis “BOON” THOMPSON

Henrique PRINCE Marshall WYATT David ROBERTS

Justin ROBINSON Rhiannon GIDDENS Earl WHITE

John SULLIVAN Howard L. SACKS and Jody ROSE SACKS

Beverly GREY Terry JENOURE Mary Catton LINGOLD

 

archival footage and photographs

The Life of Joe Thomson (2004) Directed by Iris Chapman Thompson

Way Out West (1978) Virginia Commission for the Arts and Humanities

Marshall Wyatt, Old Hat Records

Talensi Fiddle. Gongay Music From the Upper Region of Ghana, The Dinizulu Archives

Cedric Watson - Pa Janvier (Live on KEXP)

America (1924) D. W. Griffith, USA

Portrait of Joe and Odel Thompson (1987) by Nancy KALOW

Virginia Folklife

The Library of Congress

The Battle of Rogue River (1954), Theatrical Trailer 

12 Years a Slave (2013) Theatrical Trailer. Regency Films

The New York Times

 

first assistants

William MONTES-LIENDO

 Michael JORDAN (North Carolina) Mikel GRAY (Ohio) Jason EVERSOLE (Virginia) 

 

music + sounds

Negro Jig, by Carolina Chocolate Drops

attributed to The Snowdens 

 

special thanks to

Jacqueline C. DJEDJE and Benjamin HUNTER

Lucia “Cinder” STANTON Joe and Rosemary ERDMAN

Melissa YOUNG Cynthia REUSCHE

Dom FLEMONS Eugene STOLTZFUS and Janet TRETTER

Iris THOMSON CHAPMAN Ruth CHODROW Janet KALTENBACH 

Elsie W. THOMPSON Dana MARSH Sandra TIMMONS

 

the producer also wishes to thank

Travis “Boon” THOMPSON Adrianne NELSON Dan FOSTER 

Michael MALLORY Elsie THOMSON Luck CHURCH Jody KIELBASA  

Pat JARRET ab WALKER Eliza CANTY-JONES Megan FRESTEDT Nicole CHERRY

Sandy HAUSMAN Zachary STOCKS Kristina GADDY 

Bridgit and Jason EVERSOLE Dylan LOCKE from The Floyd Country Store

 

filmed on location 

Maryland: Sylver Springs

Massachusetts: Northfield, Stockbridge

New York: Harlem

North Carolina: Mebane, Raleigh, Durham

Ohio: Mount Vernon, Chillicothe

Pennsylvania: Cumberland

Virginia: Charlottesville, Floyd

 

insurance by 

Pacific Way Insurance Services | Adam Fast

Beverly Hills, CA

 

accounting by

Vitale & Miller, PA | Greg Vitale

postproduction provided by

Heritage Film Project | Charlottesville, Virginia

Edited on FINAL CUT PRO X James McLaughlin

Mountainside Studio, Charlottesville, Virginia

Images Enhanced with Topaz ® Gigapixel Artificial Intelligence

Cameras NIKON Z6, Sony PDK-150, and iPhone13

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