Gina Mahalek: What is Kīkā Kila? What does it sound like?
John W. Troutman: Kīkā Kila is a Hawaiian expression for describing both a type of guitar and a technique for playing it. The instrument, also known as a “steel guitar,” a “lap steel,” a “dobro,” or a “Hawaiian guitar,” among other names and associations, developed in the Islands in the 1880s and 1890s. Players would physically modify a “standard” guitar, add steel strings to it, and fabricate finger picks and a steel bar, about 3” in length (the instrument is named after this bar). After creating new, open tunings for the guitar, players would place the guitar in their laps, pluck the strings with finger picks on one hand, and then, with their other hand, slide the steel bar along the strings, located high above the fretboard. The technique created an entirely new sound for the guitar, one that better mimicked both the gentle rising and falling of a somber human voice as well as the melodic acrobatics that Hawaiian falsetto singers were becoming known for at the time. Hawaiians soon began creating all sorts of other sound effects on the steel guitar, and very quickly, it became the most important accompanying (as well as lead melodic) instrument in Hawaiian music.
Gina Mahalek: What was the Manhattan Musical Marketplace that you discuss in your book?
David Gilbert: This is a term that I coined to explain the historical formation of New York City as the center of American popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century. I think that many music fans, musicians, and scholars kind of take for granted that NYC has always been America’s capital of popular entertainment, and I wanted to tell the story about how this came to be. Rather than assume Broadway Theater and Tin Pan Alley song publishing just naturally developed into leading culture industries, I want to call attention to the moment in which these spaces—and their connotations—developed. And I want to emphasize African Americans’ roles in creating both New York’s unique culture markets and important facets of American popular culture.
The reason social critics and entertainers still point out white appropriation when they see it is because the American public, and its leaders, have not matured the way black music and culture have. Even though millions of whites may profess to love and respect black music, their daily decisions—and those of their elected and institutional leaders—indicate that they do not love black people.
Often overlooked in studies of Cuban musicians during the golden age of Latin popular music in the United States are the contributions of Afro-Cuban women singers. Two of the most prominent performers during the1940s and1950s were Graciela Pérez Grillo, lead singer for Machito y sus Afro-Cubans, and Celia Cruz, lead singer for La Sonora Matancera.
It is certainly an interesting time for the creation, selling, and distribution of popular music (not to mention less-popular music, like jazz and classical, which encounter even more drastic dilemmas, as recently pointed out at Salon.com). Many of the artists taking a stand against the new status quo in recorded music allude to the history of music making in the United States, often referring back to earlier eras wherein musicians received unfair deals from recording companies and large majorities of performers struggled to make a living, even as a “top 1%” of musicians dominated sales and marketing. This look back to history makes sense.
Musically, there continues to be a deep stylistic overlap between country and soul. Some of the biggest country stars of today utilize the sounds and songs of R&B, while many contemporary soul and hip-hop artists (particularly from the South) bring the characteristics of country onto their records. Then there are the folks in the middle—many of whom, like Jason Isbell or Valerie June, are from the triangle—who draw from both traditions and blend them together in new and interesting ways. It remains one of the deepest wells of American music.
Pete was seventeen years of age in 1936 when he accompanied his father to Asheville to attend Lunsford’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. During Fiona Ritchie and my Wayfaring Strangers book interview with Pete at his home above the Hudson River, Pete recalled that “ordinary working people were making fantastically good music.” The youthful Pete Seeger was mesmerized as Lunsford presided on the spotlighted stage over a parade of square-dance teams, family string bands, singers, fiddlers, and banjo players. There Pete had his formative exposure to the five-string banjo played by Samantha Bumgarner, from whom he acquired his first such instrument. Pete recalled that Lunsford patiently showed him basic banjo licks that Pete would practice and perfect over subsequent years.
Criticism and embrace of identity terms like “Hispanic” and “Latino/a” have been longstanding in the field of Latino/a Studies. Puerto Ricans, Flores argued, share more in common with African Americans than with other Latino/a groups. He contended that Puerto Ricans and African Americans experience similar forms of racial and ethnic subordination in the United States because of parallels in their location in urban areas, their socioeconomic status, and their position as colonized subjects of the same nation-state.
Congratulations to Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr for their New York Times Bestseller, Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia! We’re giving away 5 signed copies to our subscribers!
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It is generally known that the American banjo’s origins trace back to West Africa and a gourd-like instrument the gnomi, among other names. However, the plantations were something of an incubator for music of the African American slaves in a variety of forms: the fiddle, learned at the plantation house; the call-and-response work songs from the toil of the plantation fields; spirituals stemming from church worship—often clandestine services or camp meetings with hidden messages of freedom’s call; and the hush lullabies sung by mammies to their babies, and sung with irony to the children of the plantation overlords.
In Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia, the songs have always been viewed as more important than any one individual singer. The anonymous authorship of much of the repertoire meant that no one questioned the fact that people often had their own family versions of ballads, or that they varied in different geographical areas. The tradition of singing and passing songs on has had an unbroken momentum across time and place. In fact, the urge to make music and share it has been even more vital than the repertoire itself. Like any good story, a good song (and the ballads are all stories after all) will live on. It’s the same with strong melodies: they also often have independent lives and may be paired up with many songs and different dances. No one owns this stuff. It belongs to everyone.
When NPR first partnered with me in presenting The Thistle & Shamrock®, we talked about using my radio show to open a doorway into a world of evolving Celtic music traditions for public radio listeners. I could never have imagined how far that door would swing open my way, too, helping inspire my search for the depth of connection that underpins our migration story in Wayfaring Strangers.
Help us make a great book even better! We need your support to insert a CD of music in every copy of a forthcoming book about Scots-Irish music in Appalachia. Listen to a sample to hear what’s in store.
I grew up watching OutKast videos on the now-defunct Video Jukebox Network, affectionately known as “The Box.” Although OutKast received some play on MTV and BET in the early 1990s, it was on The Box, which featured a range of underground southern hip-hop artists, where I could be sure to see André “André 3000” Benjamin, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, and other southern rappers in regular rotation. Although initially record labels largely ignored southern artists, through homegrown ingenuity, southern rappers soon emerged as a formidable force in the global music industry. By 2005, top spots on music charts were regularly held by southern hip-hop artists, southern R&B singers, or hits produced by southern artists. As Memphis rapper Project Pat noted in 2006: “Now y’all was thinkin’ Dirty South was like, ‘hee-haw, hee-haw’/Is you worth over a hundred mil? We are, we are.” Indeed, the South had something to say.
Eastern North Carolina has produced some of the most transformative figures in the history of jazz, gospel and popular music. Among them are internationally renowned jazz pianists and composers Thelonious Monk from Rocky Mount and Billy Taylor from Greenville. African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina celebrates people, places and events in Eastern North …
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently announced UNC Press author Sheila Kay Adams as a 2013 NEA National Heritage Fellow. Adams is a seventh generation-ballad singer and has been performing Appalachian ballads and telling stories for over thirty years.