Black Lives Matter. I stand in solidarity with the black community.
For the past two weeks I've been working on recognizing how I have benefited from White Privilege and trying to figure out how I can amplify black voices in my own space, which is bluegrass space--banjo space.
Here are some black banjo players. The list leans toward old-time/Americana. I've only found a couple black bluegrass-style players. If you know of others, please let me know! The first four listed collaborated on the amazing Grammy-nominated project "Songs Of Our Native Daughters."
Tray Wellington (bluegrass)
Chris Lord (bluegrass)
This is not an exhaustive list by any means--it's just who I've encountered this particular week.
And if you, like me, are wondering why bluegrass and old-time are so dominated by white musicians, reading or listening to Rhiannon Giddens's IBMA Keynote address from 2017 is a great place to start.
If you know of other people I should check out, please let me know in the comments, or email me.
And Elderly Instruments is a black-owned business (at least partly) so it is a great place to spend your music dollars.
[EDIT 14 June, 2020]
I'm going to update this post so as to have all my black banjo references in one place. Last week I forgot an awesome bluegrass album by black artist Laura Love: Negrass . My friend Barbara Lamb plays fiddle on it. It was released in 2007 I think.
Here is a good article by music scholar Charles Wolfe on rural black string band music: https://nativeground.com/rural-black-string-band-music-charles-wolfe/
[EDIT 18 June, 2020]
A couple other black banjo players have come to mind in the last couple of days. Jake Blount, whose new album "Spider Tales" I just ordered. He's a great old-time musician.
And Kaia Kater, a black Canadian banjo player in the Americana vein. I just ordered her newest album "Grenades."
[EDIT 21 June, 2020]
The IBMA Foundation has established the Arnold Shultz fund "to support activities increasing participation of people of color in bluegrass music." Arnold Shultz was a Black guitar and fiddle player, the son of a former slave, and was a primary influence on Bill Monroe when he was learning and developing his style of music. Read more here. You can donate to the fund, as I have, through the link at the top of this page.
[EDIT 25 June, 2020]
And how could I have forgotten Dom Flemons, who co-founded the premier black old-time string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops in 2005, along with Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson. He has garnered much acclaim as a solo artist and plays banjo, as well as just about every other instrument used in traditional music.
[EDIT 12 July, 2020]
The Ebony Hillbillies - Black old-time stringband from New York City. Their banjo player, Norris Bennett, just passed away in May. I remember seeing him around at places like the IBMA conventions. They have released at least four albums, which are available at all the usual music places.
[EDIT 28 July, 2020]
Exploring Black old-time and bluegrass music: DJ Peter Thompson hosts a weekly show on KALW called Bluegrass Signal. He devoted one of his July shows to Black musicians: "Peter Thompson presents contemporary performances by Black old time and bluegrass musicians, writing their own or reclaiming traditional material, along with an interview with Dr. Richard Brown about the seminal influence of Arnold Schultz. Included in the program are Kaia Kater, Dom Flemons, Hubby Jenkins, Richie Brown, Our Native Daughters, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, Vera Hall, Arnold Schultz, The Ebony Hillbillies, Jake Blount, … and others!"
It is no longer available to listen to, but you can check out the playlist. It is the second of the two lists here. The first one (last week's show) was exploring the Black roots of old-time and bluegrass, whereas this week's focused more on the contemporary side. And here is an Instagram post where a bunch of the album covers are arranged nicely if you want a more visual representation. Also the musicians are tagged if they are on Instagram.