Carolina Chocolate Drops reintroduces early American music with modern interpretation and swing

With its wide array of instruments, Carolina Chocolate Drops rekindles early American music.

By Taylor Ysteboe | Oct. 14, 2014

Tags: Concerts Music The Blue Note

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The Carolina Chocolate Drops aims to revive the soul of early American music in the modern era. The passionate band will be sharing its heartfelt interpretation of folk while retaining all its charm at The Blue Note on Saturday.

“When the band met at the Black Banjo Gathering, we realized that it had been awhile since African-American music was really talked about,” Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops says. “Early American music was African-American music.”

Though the band has been through a couple reincarnations after forming in 2005, the current lineup comprises multi-instrumentalists Rhiannon Giddens, Jenkins and Rowan Corbett, along with cellist Malcolm Parson. The Carolina Chocolate Drops plays with traditional guitars, mandolins and banjos, but the band also cleverly incorporates jugs, kazoos and even bones.

Giddens is the sole remaining founding member of the band. Jenkins joined in 2011 and Corbett and Parson were introduced to the band in 2013.

“Rowan has been a friend of the band for awhile,” Jenkins says.

So when the band was looking for a new member, Corbett was an easy choice, as was cellist Parson.

“Malcolm (Parson) … clicked immediately with the band,” Jenkins says.

Both Giddens and Corbett hail from North Carolina, but Parson is originally from New Orleans and Jenkins is from New York. Despite being from across the map, the band still captures the fiery heart of southern music they say is still relevant today.

Jenkins notes a recent resurgence of folk and of the banjo, which African-Americans invented.

“We’re seeing more and more people picking up banjos and using their own stuff, their own story,” Jenkins says. “It’s becoming popularized — you see Mumford and Sons playing the banjo, and you see Taylor Swift with a banjo.”

Even with the renaissance of folk, this powerhouse string band still gives the genre their spin while still hinting at the past.

“We don’t play like others. (Our music) becomes our sound, our song, our vibe,” Jenkins says. “It also involves talk about different issues that relate it to today.”

Their brave, folk-centered album “Genuine Negro Jig” won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2010. The band released its latest album, “Leaving Eden,” a hard-hitting and raucous ode to the South, in 2012. The quartet say they’re currently discussing releasing a new album in the near future.

In order to capture this soulful mixture of past and present, the band holds a variety of musical influences that cross genres and time periods. Jenkins cites country icons Charley Patton, Hank Williams and Willie Nelson, and jazz heroes Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima and Billie Holiday. Skip forward a few decades, and Jenkins also finds inspiration in hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest and Homeboy Sandman.

For the upcoming show in Columbia, Jenkins says “there will be a song for everyone.”

“We’ll play old stuff that people know, new things and new arrangements that people appreciate and can get down with,” Jenkins says.

He also adds that his favorite part of performing is seeing concertgoers’ reactions.

“I like seeing people being shocked, people dancing and seeing little kids who have no idea what’s going on and falling asleep halfway through the show,” Jenkins says.

He said he also likes meeting fans after the show who tell him they learned more history about African-American music because of their concert.

Dust off your dancing shoes and get ready for the Carolina Chocolate Drops at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18 at The Blue Note. Tickets are $20.

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