Über Carolina Chocolate Drops
These kids may not have been born into this tradition -- singer Rhiannon Giddens went to the Oberlin Conservatory for voice -- but they've spent enough time at the feet of old-time fiddler Joe Thompson to start earning their place as inheritors of the little-known but surprisingly powerful African-American string tradition. Giddens and bandmates Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson met when they all converged in North Carolina to study with Thompson, who was then in his late 70s. Inspired by what they learned -- primarily banjo and fiddle tunes the elderly Thompson had played with his family after long days in the field -- they began playing together, trying to get Thompson's repertoire right before they performed publicly. Since those early days, the group has broadened its range, playing both old-time music and some novelty songs, and using a host of instruments (kazoo, jug and bones among them) to expand their sonic palette. When they played the Grand Ole Opry -- the first African-American group to do so -- the emcee called it "a healing" for that institution.