Posts Tagged ‘Dink Roberts’

Dink Roberts

April 16, 2012

Dink Roberts (left)

from “Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina and Virginia,” Smithsonian CD SFW 40079

Dink Roberts plays “John Hardy”:

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African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia

April 15, 2012

Dink Roberts

excerpt from “African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia,” by Cecelia Conway (University of Tennessee Press, 1995)

Dink Roberts was seasoned, shamanic, and seemed old enough to have come from Africa.  He was mysterious, and his music jarred my friends and me.  On that first afternoon we went into the far back, two-story cabin where Dink and Lily lived down behind the house shared by their son and grandson.  We sat on a couple of straightback chairs and on the two beds around the potbellied stove.  There was no electricity and no outhouse; there was the forest. Water came from the spring.

As darkness began to surround us, the flames and a kerosene lamp reached among the shadows.  Biding his time but embattled with poverty, a toughened ancient with piercing eyes, white billowy hair, and a courageous look sang nearly incomprehensible words and hammered out strange tunes.  The human spirit that had held tenaciously to a music of old began to fill up that darkness with sounds that reached everywhere.

No, he wouldn’t play along with our fiddler.  No, not even on tunes that we all recognized.  He enjoyed hearing our fiddler and banjo player make music together.  And yes, he had know fiddlers.  They were old, way old, and dead now.  And the banjo players, too.  There had been some, but they were dead.  Long dead:  “I tell you, I learned them old pieces lookin’ at the other people play.  I had the music on my mind, you know.  I’d go to town and hear somebody playing, you know.  Walk up–I’d say, ‘I’ll play that.’  Get out by yourself and you can play it.  But if you get with someone else–they cut you off.”

Some of Dink’s tunes were fiddle melodies we recognized, but the music came out in a different way.  Dink also sang on all of his pieces–even fiddle tunes–and he didn’t seem to have names for them.  Something didn’t fit.  Much later, I would understand that our cultural view didn’t fit.  How could it–without the history, without our understanding the African-American beginnings and influences?