'Black Cowboys' Due Out March 23 on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
'Black Cowboys' is the new album from
multi-instrumentalist, songster, and co-founding member of the GRAMMY
Award winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons. More than a
collection of songs from the "Wild West," the record sheds light on the
prominent but often overlooked role African American pioneers played in
In 2018, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings celebrates its 70th
anniversary, honoring Folkways founder Moses Asch's mission to "document
the people's music." As a musical torchbearer and innovator, Dom
Flemons is committed to extending and reinterpreting Asch's legacy in
the modern age. Joining him on this year's extensive release schedule
are avant-garde folk duo Anna & Elizabeth, Iraqi-American oud
virtuoso Rahim AlHaj, Tejano giants Los Texmaniacs, and special projects
that include the 'Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap,' a topical
box set on 'The Social Power of Music,' and extensive retrospectives on
Folkways greats Pete Seeger and Barbara Dane.
Listen to this 3-song sampling of the record.
The first album of its kind, 'Black Cowboys' takes the listener on an
illuminating journey "from the trails to the rails" of the Old West.
The 18-song set traverses a varied soundscape featuring string blues,
old-time square dance music, and cowboy poetry. Flemons is joined by a
celebrated group of backing musicians throughout the record, such as
GRAMMY-winning bluesman Alvin "Youngblood" Hart, Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel
Nut Zippers), and decorated folklorist and Folkways' director emeritus
Dan Sheehy, who co-produced the album.
From the first, plaintive line sung on the album opener, a field
holler called "Black Woman," it's clear that Flemons' relationship with
this material runs deep. Indeed, in 2016, Flemons himself followed the
westward path taken by Lewis and Clark and their slave, York, "crossing
every original cattle trail and Indian trading post along the way."
In addition to the album's re-worked traditional songs, Flemons
includes original songs written specifically for the occasion. "One
Dollar Bill" reflects on the portrayal of black cowboys in Hollywood
Westerns, "He's a Lone Ranger" tells the story of Bass Reeves (an
escaped slave who became the first African American Deputy US Marshal
west of the Mississippi), and "Steel Pony Blues" pays tribute to Nat
Love, the former slave turned Pullman porter who spent time as a rancher
in Flemons' native state of Arizona.
Flemons is also a historian, music scholar, and collector. He has
long carried a torch of awareness that many traditional American songs
and tunes in fact originated from, or were influenced by, the musical
and storytelling traditions of African Americans and Native Americans.
Flemons illustrates the complex cultural exchange that happened on the
frontier in the 40-page liner notes booklet, reminding us that the
American West was a much more diverse environment than old Western films
and dime novels would have us believe. On his rendition of "Home on the
Range," arguably one of the most celebrated Western songs of all time,
Flemons explains that the popularized version came from a variant
recorded in 1908, sung by a black bartender in San Antonio.
Flemons' love of cowboy songs and history traces back to his manifold
familial connections to the region in which he was born and raised. His
grandfather worked as a preacher and sawmill laborer in the same
Arizona town Nat Love called home, and after emigrating from Mexico, his
maternal ancestors became civil rights leaders in Arizona. A decade
ago, after serendipitously coming across the book 'The Negro Cowboys' on
a road trip from North Carolina to Phoenix, Flemons began immersing
himself in research and interviews on the subject. After his first
experience at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in February 2016, he
was inspired to bring his passion for this material into the studio, and
began recording 'Black Cowboys' two months later.
Along with its substantive liner notes, the album packaging includes
historic portraits of many of the songs' subjects, Flemons' personal
family photos, tintype wet plate photographs taken on a 19th-century
camera, and cover art featuring a portrait of Flemons by the celebrated
Western artist William Matthews.
Part of the Smithsonian Folkways' African American Legacy Series, the
album was produced in conjunction with the National Museum of African
American History and Culture. Flemons joins the Smithsonian Folkways
Recordings family as the label celebrates its 70th anniversary, in part
with an initiative to partner with more contemporary, living artists who
carry on traditional forms of music in the modern age.
Though extensively researched and likely educational for many
listeners, 'Black Cowboys' is much more than a history lesson. It's a
collection both plaintive and upbeat, which evokes the familiar
nostalgia for the Old West without sacrificing the truth of the matter.
With this recording, Flemons further solidifies his place at the
contemporary forefront of the American song tradition, and presents an
innovative blend of traditional forms with a modern sensibility for the
'Black Cowboy Track List:
1. Black Woman
2. Texas Easy Street
3. One Dollar Bill
4. Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad
5. Tyin' Knots in the Devil's Tail
6. Home on the Range
7. Ol' Proc
8. John Henry y los vaqueros
9. Po' Howard/Gwine Dig a Hole to Put the Devil In
10. Knox County Stomp
11. He's a Lone Ranger
12. Steel Pony Blues
13. Little Joe the Wrangler
14. Charmin' Betsy
15. Goodbye Old Paint
16. Lonesome Old River Blues
17. The March of Red River Valley
18. Old Chisholm Trail
For more information on Dom Flemons tour press, please contact Nick Loss-Eaton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 718.541.1130.