black music

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America is roiling, and one of the central conflicts is over how we tell our national story. Cutting-edge race theorists propose the slavery-centric 1619 Project. Conservative Christian nationalists counter with the 1776 Project. Our school-book histories focus on leaders in politics and capitalism, protests and reform, legislation and warfare. But there's another version on the table.

Various panels in recent months have taken 2020's surging Black Lives Matter movement into the trenches of Americana and Country music to define possible futures for inclusion and diversity in the historically white genres. For those seeking even deeper levels of conversation, action and community, an unprecedented four-day virtual music festival kicks off Thursday called the Country Soul Songbook Summit.

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Jake Blount recalls a day in 2011 when he happened upon a restaurant venue during a city-based music festival in Washington DC and learned more than one thing that would change his life. “I ran into this band,” he says - Megan Jean and Byrne Klay of Charleston, SC. “It was a woman playing a washboard and a guy playing a banjo. And they had a totally different sound than anything I’d heard, largely because he was playing clawhammer style, and I’d never seen that done before.” Mark this as epiphany number one.

Americana music was born with a contradiction at its core – one that was bound to surface in ways that would be both uncomfortable and fulfilling. As a mid 1990s initiative by an independent music sector centered in traditional country, roots rock, bluegrass and folk music, Americana inherited a century of cultural hybridizing and marginalizing that treated Black American music as a kind of open source software whose inventors had been given no options for ownership of their inventions.

The dramatic events of 2020 have foregrounded issues of race and music, and this week the conversation goes public. Several organizations have collaborated to produce Black Equity In Americana, a public online panel this Thursday at 3 pm central, featuring what organizers are calling “an honest, restorative dialogue featuring a group of Americana music’s top Black artists and creative professionals.”

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