Updated: Jul 3, 2022
On Location in November 2nd
Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson will be in front of the camera for Black Fiddlers. The plans were made almost a year ago. However, COVID, Rhiannon’s commitments, Justin’s professional and domestic obligations, and my traveling from location to location to complete the research for the documentary film Black Fiddlers, made it almost impossible to block dates for an interview with Rhiannon and Justin until now. And that is very good news.
Black Fiddlers has been slowly becoming one of my most ambitious documentary projects that I have been involved with over the years. The rabbit hole has never been more intricate, more demanding. What started with a request by David McCormick and the Early Music Access Project to produce a film about Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved fiddling offspring’s with Sally Hemmings fleetingly developed into a documentary about the evolution of an African tradition in America.
It was here, in the New World, that the violin was repurposed to assist in reshaping the legacy of Black fiddlers who brough with them the string playing traditions originated in Africa-west before Amati’s masterful design of the Italian violin. That legacy knew of hundreds of protagonists across the United States. We could try to organize them by region, by state, by family groups, but the irremediable fact that this was a community effort by the African diaspora, will soon subvert the original premise storming the documentary by assault. By the time we realized the film was not about the mixed-race children of Thomas Jefferson in Monticello, we were already committed to deliver a more inclusive picture of the evolution of Black fiddlers in America.
When in 1973 folklorist Kip Lornell rediscovered cousins Joe and Odell Thomson (fiddler and banjo respectively), the nation learned that they could very well have been the last Black fiddlers in the land, except for the fact that there were some out there willing to t baton (or the bow) and carry on with the tradition. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a string band performing group was there to reclaim the cultural heritage and they went on to make history. It was a just tribute to Joe Thomson’s conviction that what he had learned from his father and his father from his, was legacy that went back “all the way back to the 1700s, all the way back to Africa.”
On November 1, Rhiannon Giddens, and Justin Robinson, founding members of The Carolina Chocolate Drops will be there -on camera- to tell the story of Joe and Odell, just as the cousins from Meban, NC. told them of their trials and tribulations almost twenty-five years ago.
Looking forward to November, and sincerely grateful to our champions for their relentless support.