American Songster Radio

  Dom Flemons is a banjo player and co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. He calls himself the American Songster.  Dom also hosts a podcast for WUNC.  Subscribe here.

More Tunes And Tales From Vegas: American Songster Radio Episode 14

Aug 13, 2017
Gus Canonn, jug and banjo, Ashley Thompson, guitar, and Noah Lewis harmonica (Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers around 1928)
Public Domain/ WUNC

When Dom Flemons first came across the story of African American songster Gus Cannon, one fact took him by surprise.  "[Gus Cannon] was a blackface performer, but he was a black man," Flemons says, recalling his initial reaction.  "How can this be?  That you can have an African American man be a part of a type of entertainment that, when I’d read about it in books, they would say that it was demeaning to black people?"  

Dom Flemons 'What Got Over' Release
Dom Flemons

When Dom Flemons was in the studio making his album Prospect Hill, the engineer made a casual comment that pushed the material in an unexpected direction. “Maybe you should sell some of those beats to a hip-hop artist!” the engineer quipped. 

Laurent Dubois: American Songster Radio Podcast Episode 12

May 15, 2017

In 2005, Laurent Dubois had an encounter that would spark his transformation from a historian with a banjo to a historian of the banjo.  It was an unusual example of the instrument that began to deepen his curiosity—a Haitian artifact that had languished for most of its life in a museum collection.  

Dom (left) and Jerron backstage at a Tribute to LeadBelly at Carnegie Hall in February 2016
Vania Kindard

The young folk musician Jerron Paxton defies easy categorization.  He grew up in a west coast metropolis, but his family and community adhered to customs from the rural south. And, like a number of people in Los Angeles with Louisiana roots, he inherited a combination of African-American, American Indian, and Jewish heritage. Paxton plays acoustic music that reflects these origins, with a focus on solo fiddle, guitar, and banjo. He also has a passion for telling his family’s story: 

Kaia Kater
Polina Mourzina

The birth of the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the 2005 Black Banjo Gathering at Appalachian State University has become the stuff of folk music legend. “Of course it was an academic event,” Dom Flemons notes of the conference, “but it was also based on the idea of confirming that you weren’t the only one out there.” Once launched, the Drops’ music spread like wildfire. With it emerged a new public appreciation of the African American roots of old-time, bluegrass, and country music.

Dom Flemons, the host of WUNC’s American Songster Radio Podcast, has a role in the new CMT TV series Sun Records, which premieres tonight (Thursday 2/23) at 10 PM on CMT.  

Cowboy Songs: American Songster Radio Podcast Episode 9

Feb 21, 2017
Dom Flemons, 2nd from left, with Brian Farrow, Cowboy Celtic, Sourdough Slim and Robert Armstrong
Vania Marie Kinard

What makes a song a folk song, anyway?

One familiar answer is that a folk song is a song without an author. Folk song scholars even have a name for the theory that some songs emerge without any one person composing them. They call it "communal creation."

On Episode 8 of American Songster Radio, host Dom Flemons speaks with his recent musical collaborator, the legendary English guitarist Martin Simpson. 

Dom Flemons and Martin Simpson have worked together since 2014, when the pair received a joint commission from the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Since then, they’ve completed multiple duo tours and released Ever Popular Favourites, an album that celebrates the longstanding mutual influence of British and American music.

Jake Fussell Playing Guitar
Brad Bunyea

Jake Fussell didn’t have to look far for musical inspiration in his home state of Georgia.  Even before he picked up a guitar, he was surrounded by some of the region’s most storied performers and committed documentarians.  Fussell grew up in the town of Columbus, GA, the son of parents whose passion was studying, teaching, and presenting regional culture.  For Fussell, an American folk song like “Raggy Levy” isn’t just an archival find.  It’s a part of his lived experience. 

Dom Flemons with good friend and mentor Bill Ferris
WUNC

Meet Bill Ferris

On the first Sunday of every month, Bill Ferris attended an African-American church on the farm where he grew up. Over time Ferris, a white child, became a routine presence at the church. He especially loved participating in the church’s communal singing. "I learned the hymns, and I just felt very emotionally close to that world," Ferris tells American Songster Radio host Dom Flemons.

While still a very young person, Martin Fisher fell in love with a very old machine. It was Christmas in Tennessee, and Martin's parents kept pestering him to submit his list. Martin remembers that his quirky, nine-year-old self wasn't all that interested in gifts. But his parents persisted, and Martin came up with a response: "I finally said, 'Ok. I'm gonna call their bluff.' And I said, 'have the elves hook up a cylinder player.'"

Dom Flemons with Valerie June
Vania Kinard

Before Valerie June had ever written a song of her own, she was busy putting up show posters for artists like Bobby Womack and Prince. You might say June was born into the music business.

"My dad had a promotion company called Music Makers Production, and he put all of us to work!" the singer told Dom Flemons in their interview for American Songster Radio.

Valerie June’s whole family pitched in on bringing national acts to their home town, Jackson, Tennessee.

Talking With Taj Mahal: American Songster Radio Podcast Episode 3

Aug 1, 2016

In episode 3 of the podcast series American Songster Radio, host Dom Flemons calls on blues legend Taj Mahal for a conversation about their mutual love of the banjo and its complicated history. 

"All the pictures and caricatures of those black-faced minstrels really seemed to be degrading. But the instrument itself - there was something about it. It would rattle in my bones," Taj Mahal says of his early connections with instrument. 

American Songster Podcast host Dom Flemons with Bill Ferris in the WUNC Chapel Hill Studios
WUNC

Bill Ferris is an author and scholar and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Currently, he's Senior Associate Director of the Center for the Study of the American South, professor of history, and adjunct professor in the Curriculum in Folklore at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Dom Flemons and Ketch Secor
Ketch Secor: Michael J. Farrand

American Songster Radio is a monthly look at the roots of American Popular music. It’s hosted by world renowned musician and folklorist Dom Flemons who playfully refers to himself as The American Songster.

For Episode 1 Dom calls on Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show fame for a chat about their shared passion for music and about being  "hardcore Bob Dylan fans."

The program also features Dom playing  two Leadbelly Tunes: "Poor Howard" and  "Goin Dig A Hole to Put the Devil In."

Meet Dom Flemons: American Songster Radio Podcast Episode 0

Jul 4, 2016

Welcome to WUNC's new podcast called American Songster Radio. Every month host Dom Flemons, a.k.a. The American Songster, will present a new take on traditional music.

Dom, a co-founder of the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, will be inviting a variety of guests to join him in a journey of discovery through the worlds of traditional folk song.

From his vintage hat to his enormous 1920s banjo, Dom Flemons looks like he's time-traveled from a different era.