From the early 1700s to the Civil War enslaved and free Black fiddlers performed the music for dances and house parties hosted by elite plantation owners at their farms and town houses in the American south. Black fiddlers combined the European dance music they played at these high-visibility social events with ballads and songs, church hymns, African melodies and rhythms and their Caribbean variations to create a distinctive fusion music that served to bind together Black experience in the American south. In their music we hear a soundtrack of slavery. When Black fiddlers moved west and north in the 1800s their soundtrack became a national music, a music so attractive, so popular, that after the Civil War it was mainstreamed and diluted.
But it has not been lost. Early Black fiddler traditions have been passed down from one generation to the next. Some early Black fiddler music has been revived, most notably by the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Other music has been discovered by scholars, and it awaits fresh performance and its rightful recognition.
Black Fiddlers, a documentary film by Eduardo Montes-Bradley, will for the first time tell the story of early Black fiddlers with rich musical illustration from a talented cast that includes Benjamin Hunter, Rhiannon Giddens, Jacqueline DjeDje, Kip Lornell, John Sullivan, Howard and Judith Sacks, and others. We have begun filming in Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and North Carolina, and we have scheduled sessions in California, Washington, and Oregon. Each of these session interviews and recordings stands as a chapter in a big story that promises to revolutionize our understanding of American music and culture.
Black Fiddlers is a production of the Heritage Film Project and the Early Music Access Project. A generous contribution from the Joseph and Robert Cornell Foundation enabled us to begin Black Fiddlers in December 2020. With your support, we will be able to give the Black fiddler story the attention it deserves and complete the film for distribution in early 2022.
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