by John Stoehr
I'm reposting this, because the Carolina Chocolate Drops open tonight. And I'm reposting, because I was just thinking about comments made by public officials in Charleston who are clearly racist. Racism really makes no sense. I'm not speaking of its moral nature. It's clearly immoral to me. But it's illogical, too, because it's based on the notion that one race (black) is inferior to another (white). (I know this is obvious to perspicuous people; I don't mean to insult your intelligence.)
In the 21st century, time and again, artists of African descent have contributed so many beautiful things to our culture. And I'm not talking about so-called black art, but European-derived art forms, too. The Imani Winds and Anthony Davis (who was a roommate of John Adams and Ingram Marshall, two other important American composers) are only two cases in point. Now we have the beautiful Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. She is in the middle of a African-American string band revival, a popular wave she got involved in only after having gone to one of the best music conservatories in the country to study voice and opera. Here's a picture of her in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. Racists who apply terms like "CP time" to all African Americans are not just immoral but nonsensical.
Tickets for the Carolina Chocolate Drops are selling fast. It's easy to see why. They draw from all kinds of musical sources to create their music. Don't tell them that can't do one kind of music, then turn around and do another kind. They don't know what you mean by "can't." The lead singer, Rhiannon Giddens, has already impressed me. While I was spell-checking her name, I came across her professional website. Turns out this singer and dancer and preservationist of African-American string music of the Carolina Piedmont is also an accomplished opera singer. Take at look at this picture of her (above left) in the Oberlin Conservatory's (where she studied voice) production of Mozart's classic of classical opera's Cosi fan tutte. I love it when artists defy our expectations of what's possible — that's what lies at the heart of being creative. You envision what wasn't there. Here's Giddens with her band and the kind of thing you'll likely find at the Drops' Spoleto performances. Unless Giddens busts out with some Marriage of Figaro.