Undergraduate Research & Scholarships

Scott Underwood L&S Arts & Humanities

Bluegrass: Black Roots, Black Reclamation

Bluegrass music is a modern invention, emerging in the 1940s as a synthesis of Black music forms such as work songs, gospel, and blues with white European-descended fiddle tunes and traditional ballads from the British Isles by way of Appalachia. It includes prominent use of the banjo, an African instrument brought by enslaved Blacks, and stresses instrumental virtuosity including improvisational “jamming” derived from Black jazz of the 1920s. Despite these factors, bluegrass has for most of its history been associated with white musicians and white audiences. In the last twenty years, Black musicians such as Rhiannon Giddens and Jake Blount have begun to reclaim and refashion traditional string band music. My research seeks to understand this racial split in traditional music. Why did bluegrass become white? What Black music influenced bluegrass, and where did it “go”? Why did the banjo move from Black to white music? What factors have led to the recent resurgence of Black string band music? Beyond racism and appropriation, what are the socio-musical forces that contributed to this split and can we add perspective to the recent revival in Black traditional music forms?

Message To Sponsor

I sincerely appreciate the gift of the SURF grant. The funding allows me to spend the summer focused on my research without distraction, and I feel honored to be recognized this way.
Major: American Studies
Mentor: Christine Palmer
Sponsor: Leadership Fund
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