Sepia Tones: Exploring Black Appalachian Music—E4: Dom Flemons, The American Songster
On this episode of our mini-series Sepia Tones, Dr. William Turner and Dr. Ted Olson welcome Dom Flemons, a renowned performer of American folk music and a founding member of The Carolina Chocolate Drops. Citing a variety of musical influences—including the legendary Howard Armstrong and the inimitable Elizabeth Cotten—Flemons shares his journey into becoming a tradition-bearer of old-time music and demonstrates the subtleties of rural black musical styles he’s learned along the way.
Dom Flemons is a founding member of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, a two-time Emmy nominee, and the creative force behind a number of solo works including, most recently, Black Cowboys and Prospect Hill: The American Songster Omnibus. He is a multi-instrumentalist whose repertoire spans the history of American folklore, ballads, and tunes.
Dr. William Turner is a long-time African American studies scholar and retired Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies and Regional Ambassador from Berea College. He was also a research assistant to Roots author Alex Haley and co-editor of the groundbreaking Blacks in Appalachia. In 2021, Turner received Western Carolina University's individual Mountain Heritage Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to Southern Appalachian studies. His memoir called The Harlan Renaissance, available from West Virginia University Press, was awarded the prestigious Weatherford Award at the 2022 Appalachian Studies Association Conference.
Dr. Ted Olson is a music historian and professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of many books, articles, reviews, encyclopedia entries, and oral histories. Olson has produced and compiled a number of documentary albums of traditional Appalachian music including GSMA’s own On Top of Old Smoky and Big Bend Killing. His work has received a number of awards, including seven Grammy nominations. The East Tennessee Historical Society honored Olson with its Ramsey Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2021.
Music featured includes:
1. "John Henry" performed by Amythyst Kiah and Roy Andrade from GSMA’s album Big Bend Killing
2. “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” and “Knox County Stomp,” both from Dom Flemons’ most recent album, Black Cowboys, from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
3. “Po’ Black Sheep” performed by Dom Flemons as part of the African American Legacy Recordings series, co-produced with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
4. “Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind” and "Cornbread and Butterbeans" both by The Carolina Chocolate Drops and Joe Thompson, from their collaborative album released by Music Maker Foundation
5. And a selection of music performed for our podcast by Dom Flemons