Banjo Player Jake Blount Challenges Genres and Questions Historical Narratives in “Spider Tales”

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

For nearly a century, the musicians playing and promoting old-time string band and bluegrass music have tended to be white. That’s not merely a cultural trend, explains Jake Blount, a Black fiddler and banjo player who also has a degree in ethnomusicology. As he told me for a recent piece:

In the 1920s, record labels began differentiating between “race records” and “hillbilly music,” sometimes erasing Black musicians from the hillbilly records by not crediting them. “They recorded Black people playing blues and jazz, and white people playing fiddle and banjo music. They marketed the Black people to Black people and the white people to white people,” Blount says. “By doing that, they created a financial incentive for those traditions to stop interweaving with one another and stop communicating.”

This segregation catalyzed a Black exodus from old-time music during the 20th century, even though Black musicians were the ones who had helped alchemize the homegrown concoction of English ballads, Celtic fiddle songs, blues and spirituals, and African instrumentation that eventually gave rise to country and bluegrass music.

Blount is part of a new generation of artists picking up where their ancestors left off. With his 2020 album, Spider Tales, one of my favorite of the year, Blount summons a rich history of American folk songs written and sung by Black and Indigenous musicians, tunes that have been there throughout the history of this country even if they were obscured, underpromoted, or drowned out, or audiences simply weren’t paying enough attention. “I see my role as someone who’s in the middle of all of those genres,” Blount says, “to start to undo that damage and put these things back in dialogue with one another.”

Listen to some of Blount’s songs and read my interview with the musician here.

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate