ANNOUNCING BIRTHRIGHT: A BLACK ROOTS MUSIC COMPENDIUM

Craft Recordings proudly announces the release of Birthright: A Black Roots Music Compendium, an expansive overview of American Black roots music. Produced by author, professor, and GRAMMY®-nominated music historian Dr. Ted Olson, along with GRAMMY-winning producer, musician, and author Scott Billington, Birthright offers an introduction to the rich and often nuanced world of Black roots music. Spanning generations and genres, the 40 songs in this brand-new collection showcase a broad range of styles: from gospel and blues to Louisiana Creole, jazz, Gullah music, and more, while the artists range from little-known musicians to enduring icons like John Lee Hooker, Odetta, The Staple Singers, and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
 
Due out February 17th on 2-CD/digital formats and available to pre-order or pre-save today, Birthright features a handful of rarities, as well as the previously unreleased “Georgie Buck” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops (a collective of musicians that includes Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens, and Justin Robinson) featuring fiddler Joe Thompson. The 2-CD edition includes insightful essays from musicians/scholars Corey Harris and Dom Flemons (music from both artists also appears on the album), as well as an introduction and detailed track notes by Olson. Through word and song, Birthright not only seeks to pay tribute to an essential canon of American music, but also demonstrates the pervasive influence of Black roots music on popular culture – from country to hip-hop.
 
While the recordings on Birthright date back to the ’50s, one must take into account the historical through line, which begins centuries ago. “Music in Africa was woven into every aspect of life and every song was specific to a certain time of year, festival, activity or life event,” writes Harris. “When our captive ancestors were driven off the slave ship on to the shores of a strange land, they had these songs with them.” Amid the horrors of slavery, music served as an important form of communication. While African drums were banned, Harris explains, “Stringed instruments and household items like jugs, spoons, bones and washboards became our weapons of circumstance…. But no matter how many laws were passed, you couldn’t outlaw rhythm.”
 
Following Emancipation, Black roots music was first recorded in the early 20th century by folklorists like John Lomax. But, in a sharply segregated country, few people would hear it. Flemons notes, “The acknowledgement that any American music could be considered to have ‘Black roots’ was not only unheard of, it was treated with disregard and in many instances, was banned from being performed and disseminated to the general public altogether.”
 
These foundational recordings were vital, however – particularly because Black music and culture were generally portrayed using grotesque stereotypes or Euro-classical stylings. Instead, the audio “removed all secondary ‘straightening,’ ‘sweetening’ or ‘exaggerating’ of the music,” explains Flemons. “A new dialogue could be had between the folklorist and the musician allowing the subject for the first time to ‘speak for themselves.’” He continues, “The performance could in essence reflect the inherent value of a unique ‘Black’ culture. This early documentation is an essential resource for our understanding of Black roots music of the past.”
 
In the following decades, with the rise of the record industry, regional music styles developed and spread further into the mainstream, with blues, jazz, and gospel making a significant impact on popular music, leading to rock ’n’ roll, soul, and eventually hip-hop. But while new generations continued to build upon these foundations, Black roots music never stopped thriving, as Birthright proves. “There has been wave after wave of Black roots artists who have built a new bridge to the past,” adds Flemons. “No matter the era, the musical innovations of the African and Caribbean Diaspora are still prevalent in the hands, feet, instruments and voices of each of these artisans no matter how refined or down-home they may sound.”
 
Each track in Birthright – whether recorded 60 or six years ago – offers an example of this rich musical tradition, including a variety of mid-century field recordings. Among the highlights is Bessie Jones’ “Yonder Come Day,” documented in Georgia in 1973. Jones (1902–1984) was a member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, which was founded to preserve the music of the Southeast’s coastal Gullah culture. Another notable selection is “Eunice Two Step,” from the renowned duo of accordion player Bois Sec Ardoin and fiddler Canray Fontenot. Recorded in the ’60s and sung in French, the song represents the “Creole” tradition and, as Ted Olson notes, “reflects the older sound of Black music in rural Louisiana before the emergence of the more modern Zydeco genre.” There are also more informal recordings, including those of incarcerated men, singing “work songs.” Among them is Bennie Richardson, who leads a rendition of the traditional “Grizzly Bear,” alongside his fellow inmates at a Texas penitentiary. The song, explains Olson, “employs verbal coding. The ‘Grizzly Bear’ character…was a white prison guard, while “Jack O’ Diamonds” was a veiled reference to a white prison warden.” The audio, recorded in the mid-’60s, features a call-and-response style of singing, which originated in West Africa.
 
In addition to field recordings, the collection showcases a handful of well-known legends, including The Staple Singers. While best-known as ’70s soul stars, the family group began on the gospel circuit. Their 1963 recording of Willie Johnson’s frequently covered “Motherless Children” features call-and-response vocals from patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his children, Mavis, Yvonne, Cleotha, and Pervis. Civil rights activist, singer, and actress Odetta makes an appearance with “Special Delivery Blues,” a song originally recorded in 1926 by jazz singer Sippie Wallace. Blues stars like John Lee Hooker (delivering the traditional “When I Lay My Burden Down”), Skip James (“Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”), and Lightnin’ Hopkins, who performs his influential “Automobile Blues,” are also represented in this collection, while a younger generation of celebrated bluesman, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’, revisit Sleepy John Estes’ “Diving Duck Blues” from 1929.
 
Birthright also looks to the future with inspired tunes from contemporary acts. Among them is Ranky Tanky, who interpret traditional Gullah music. The term “ranky tanky,” which translates roughly to “get funky,” inspired both their group name and the song included in this collection. Another example is the aforementioned “Georgia Buck” from the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who share a passion for African American string bands. Their 2006 recording of the traditional tune is a collaboration with their mentor, fiddler Joe Thompson (1918–2012). The internationally renowned a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock, meanwhile, delivers the 19th-century spiritual, “Study War No More.” Known more popularly as “Down by the Riverside,” the song not only became a gospel staple, but also an antiwar anthem during the Vietnam War. The even longer-running Preservation Hall Jazz Band – a New Orleans institution – performs Paul Barbarin’s “Bourbon Street Parade,” which pays celebrates the joyful, parade-beat groove which is the heartbeat of the city’s music. Another mainstay of the Big Easy, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, has been keeping the city’s brass band tradition alive since 1977, and appears here with their Caribbean-inspired 2012 tune, “Best of All.”
 
While the voices on Birthright are unique, they all share a common thread. As Harris puts it so eloquently, “When we listen to the artists on this set, we are hearing the voice of a people determined to express themselves and be heard above the empty, metallic din of progress, above the saccharine pop and soulless glam of the industry. When the power goes out and the internet goes down, some of us will still be playing music and sharing our joys and pains with one another in song. Black roots music is a testament to the fact that if modern civilization were to collapse, we have the power and the spirit to rise up once again. We only need to hold on to our roots. This is an excellent place to start.”
 
Tracklist (CD):
 
CD 1

  1. Preservation Hall Jazz Band - Bourbon Street Parade
  2. Corey Harris and Shardé Thomas - Station Blues
  3. Mississippi Fred McDowell - 61 Highway
  4. Carolina Chocolate Drops, featuring Joe Thompson - Georgie Buck*
  5. Ranky Tanky - Ranky Tanky
  6. Etta Baker - One Dime Blues
  7. Bois Sec Ardoin and Canray Fontenot - Eunice Two Step
  8. Lightnin’ Hopkins - Automobile Blues
  9. Bennie Richardson - Grizzly Bear
  10. The Staple Singers - Motherless Children
  11. Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry - Blues Before Sunrise
  12. Dink Roberts - Fox Chase
  13. Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong - Sweet Georgia Brown
  14. Golden Eagles - Little Liza Jane
  15. Clifton Chenier and His Band - Ay-Tete Fee
  16. Skip James - Hard Time Killing Floor Blues
  17. George Lewis New Orleans Jazz Band - Weary Blues
  18. Bessie Jones - Yonder Come Day
  19. Joseph Spence - We Will Understand It Better By And By
  20. Dirty Dozen Brass Band - Best Of All
CD 2
  1. Cedric Burnside - Step In
  2. Amythyst Kiah - Pretty Polly
  3. Lonnie Johnson and Elmer Snowden - St. Louis Blues
  4. Leyla McCalla - Money Is King
  5. Dom Flemons - Polly Put The Kettle On
  6. Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ - Diving Duck Blues
  7. Boozoo Chavis - Crying Blues
  8. Campbell Brothers - Morning Train
  9. John Lee Hooker - When I Lay My Burden Down
  10. Lesley Riddle - Titanic
  11. Professor Longhair - Go To The Mardi Gras
  12. Mississippi John Hurt - Candy Man
  13. Jesse Fuller - San Francisco Bay Blues
  14. Odetta - Special Delivery Blues
  15. John Jackson - Step It Up And Go
  16. Tuts Washington - Arkansas Blues
  17. Rev. Gary Davis - Lo, I Will Be With You Always
  18. Inmate named Peter - Ups On The Farm
  19. Cephas & Wiggins – John Henry
  20. Sweet Honey in the Rock – Study War No More
Tracklist (digital):
  1. Preservation Hall Jazz Band - Bourbon Street Parade
  2. Corey Harris and Shardé Thomas - Station Blues
  3. Mississippi Fred McDowell - 61 Highway
  4. Carolina Chocolate Drops, featuring Joe Thompson - Georgie Buck*
  5. Ranky Tanky - Ranky Tanky
  6. Etta Baker - One Dime Blues
  7. Bois Sec Ardoin and Canray Fontenot - Eunice Two Step
  8. Lightnin’ Hopkins - Automobile Blues
  9. Bennie Richardson - Grizzly Bear
  10. The Staple Singers - Motherless Children
  11. Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry - Blues Before Sunrise
  12. Dink Roberts - Fox Chase
  13. Martin, Bogan, and Armstrong - Sweet Georgia Brown
  14. Golden Eagles - Little Liza Jane
  15. Clifton Chenier and His Band - Ay-Tete Fee
  16. Skip James - Hard Time Killing Floor Blues
  17. George Lewis New Orleans Jazz Band - Weary Blues
  18. Bessie Jones - Yonder Come Day
  19. Joseph Spence - We Will Understand It Better By And By
  20. Dirty Dozen Brass Band - Best Of All
  21. Cedric Burnside - Step In
  22. Amythyst Kiah - Pretty Polly
  23. Lonnie Johnson and Elmer Snowden - St. Louis Blues
  24. Leyla McCalla - Money Is King
  25. Dom Flemons - Polly Put The Kettle On
  26. Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ - Diving Duck Blues
  27. Boozoo Chavis - Crying Blues
  28. Campbell Brothers - Morning Train
  29. John Lee Hooker - When I Lay My Burden Down
  30. Lesley Riddle - Titanic
  31. Professor Longhair - Go To The Mardi Gras
  32. Mississippi John Hurt - Candy Man
  33. Jesse Fuller - San Francisco Bay Blues
  34. Odetta - Special Delivery Blues
  35. John Jackson - Step It Up And Go
  36. Tuts Washington - Arkansas Blues
  37. Rev. Gary Davis - Lo, I Will Be With You Always
  38. Inmate named Peter - Ups On The Farm
  39. Cephas & Wiggins – John Henry
  40. Sweet Honey in the Rock – Study War No More 

* previously unreleased

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