The Old-Time Herald Volume 10, Number 9

The Carolina Chocolate Drops—
Purpose, Intensity, and Grace

By Hilary Dirlam

A talented and energetic trio playing old-time Carolina Piedmont string band music, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are an anomaly in almost every way possible. They are young African Americans playing old-time music. One member is a trained opera singer, yet she is equally skilled at singing in an old-time way. The Chocolate Drops present themselves on stage in a laid-back style. Their between-numbers chat is as likely as not a scholarly delivery of facts about the origins of the upcoming tune or song.

Photo by Lissa Gotwals
Click here for video of the Carolina Chocolate drops at the 2006 Mount Airy Fiddler's Convention .
Most high-energy groups don’t sit down. Most dress with some glitz and glamour; most scatter sparkling pre-programmed banter between tunes. The Chocolate Drops walk on stage casually dressed and laden with their various instruments, and settle into their chairs. Rhiannon tells the audience that dancing is encouraged. They start to play; the fiddle, banjo and bones have the driving rhythmic interlock that’s the stuff of great—not just good—dance music. People are already dancing. The end of the tune is greeted with stamping, whistles, and shouts. So what’s going on?

First, the Chocolate Drops are inspired. Joe Thompson, traditional African American fiddler, is their patron saint, and is the source of an unbroken tradition of Carolina Piedmont string band style. The members of the band have a very clear understanding that they will be—are—carrying on a style of music that but for them might not last past Joe Thompson’s generation. This unswerving sense of purpose informs their music with an intensity and grace.

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