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Carolina Chocolate Drops

In the summer and fall of 2005, three young black musicians, Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens, and Justin Robinson, made the commitment to travel to Mebane, N.C., every Thursday night to sit in the home of old-time fiddler Joe Thompson for a musical jam session. Joe was in his 80’s, a black fiddler with a short bowing style that he inherited from generations of family musicians. He had learned to play a wide ranging set of tunes sitting on the back porch with other players after a day of field work. Now he was passing those same lessons on to a new generation.

When the three students decided to form a band, they didn’t have big plans. It was mostly a tribute to Joe, a chance to bring his music back out of the house again and into dance halls and public places. They called themselves The Chocolate Drops as a tip of the hat to the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, three black brothers Howard, Martin and Bogan Armstrong, who lit up the music scene in the 1930’s. Honing and experimenting with Joe’s repertoire, the band often coaxed their teacher out of the house to join them on stage. Joe’s charisma and charm regularly stole the show.

Being young and living in the 21st century, the Chocolate Drops first hooked up through a yahoo group, Black Banjo: Then and Now hosted by Tom Thomas and Sule Greg Wilson. Dom was still living in Arizona, but in April 2005, when the web-chat spawned the Black Banjo Gathering in Asheville, N.C., he flew east and ended moving to the Piedmont where he could get at the music first hand. Joe Thompson’s house was the proof in the pudding.

The Grammy–award winning Carolina Chocolate Drops have added two new musicians to the band: human beatboxer Adam Matta and multi-instrumentalist Hubby Jenkins. The two join the group as founding member Justin Robinson departs to take up new challenges.

Hubby Jenkins is a New York City multi-instrumental musician and songwriter, known for his authentic and soulful interpretations of traditional American music. He specializes in early blues, old time, ballads, and ragtime. Jenkins developed his style and repertoire from busking in New York subways and many cities around the US. He has performed at many NY venues including The Jalopy, Mercury Lounge, and Joe’s Pub as well as at the Shakori Hills Festival and the fifth annual Congressional Blues Festival. He also performed and participated at the second Black Banjo Gathering.

Adam Matta is a beatboxer and vocal performance artist from New York City. He has performed with Bobby McFerrin at Carnegie Hall and House of Music in Moscow, Russia, and he headlined the 2009 UK Human Beatbox Convention. His beatboxing has been featured on PBS, Showtime, WNYE, and NPR, and his music was on The L Word, Season II: Sessions (Tommy Boy), and in the documentary Planet B-Boy. Matta has been artist-in-residence at Cornell University, Here Arts Center, Digital Performance Institute, and League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots.

Nonesuch released its second record from the Carolina Chocolate Drops—a four-song EP—on January 25; the band’s first Nonesuch release, the critically acclaimed Genuine Negro Jig, won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. This new EP is a collaboration with the New York City–based Romanian gypsy punk band Luminescent Orchestrii; it was co-produced by the Lumiis sound engineer, Joseph “Bass” DeJarnette, with the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Luminescent Orchestrii.

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