BOTMC and Equity, Diversity, Inclusion

This page is a work in progress, and since the work never stops, this page will periodically be updated.

Berkeley Old Time Music COnvention

ANti-Racism Statement

As appreciators and torch bearers of early American traditional music, the Berkeley Old Time Music Convention actively questions what it means to share this music in the context of systemic racism. We wish to acknowledge the immense contribution of Black and Indigenous musicians to the music presented by the BOTMC, in the past and in the present.  We acknowledge the forces that have historically denied these contributions and that worked to sever their living connections to this music. We also acknowledge our own complicity in this oppression. As we play this music, we are reckoning with our history and present condition. We hope to build a road toward reparation.Adapted (with permission) from the Plaid Strangers (Thomas Angell, Maxine Gerber, Karen Heil and Allegra Yellin)

Here are some of the BOTMC's activities related to anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion:


1.  Booking:  We’ve made it a priority to include POC (people of color), LGBT and disabled artists on our roster, starting with our very first year in 2003. We aim for diversity in other ways as well: gender, generational, geographical.  

We strive for a deeper commitment to diversity beyond booking POC acts. Here are other things we've been doing:

2. Black Banjo and Fiddle Fellowship Project  - Scheduled to kick off in spring, 2023, the BBFF is a two-year apprenticeship and music teacher training program, and is a program of the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music (OPC), a music school which serves the local Black community. The BBFF is also a collaboration between the BOTMC and OPC. The outcome will be the establishment of an old-time music program at OPC, with classes, jams and other activities.  

Four local Black string musicians (not yet selected) will receive intensive mentoring from two Black old-time masters, Jake Blount and Earl White, with additional instruction and mentoring from other Black musicians and cultural experts. Most of this will be on Zoom. All of the instructors and mentors will be paid; the Fellows will receive a small stipend. At the end of the two-year program, the Fellows will have paying jobs teaching old time music at OPC — in fact, they’ll begin teaching during the two year program (for which they will be paid). This is a one-time only program; it is our hope that the original four Fellows and their students will continue their involvement with old time music as well as their teaching at OPC.

OPC’s founder/director, Angela Wellman, is a highly regarded jazz trombonist, who also plays the banjo, having attended the Black Banjo Gathering which was the start of the burgeoning Black Banjo movement.

We have secured partial funding for this two-year program, including a grant from the Arnold Schultz Fund of the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) to support the purchase of musical instruments, particularly banjos, for participants in the program. We are working on raising the remainder of the funding. 

The planning committee (Angela Wellman, Director of the Oakland Public Conservatory; Suzy Thompson, BOTMC Director;l and Karen Celia Heil, BOTMC Organizing Group member and California Bluegrass Association Board member) began designing this program in 2021, consulting with Black musicians and cultural experts, including Ben Hunter, Valerie Diaz and Dom Flemons. 

We hope to have a web page up for this program soon!  


3. Anti-Racist Workshops geared towards the music community - three members of our Organizing Group have designed and implemented free interactive, participatory Zoom workshops around topics relating to racism and old time music.  They’ve held two so far:  “From Appropriation to Appreciation”  and “Calling In - Becoming an Anti-Racist Ally in a Jam Session”  Both were well attended and much appreciated, and they are continuing to work on this.


4. BOTMC events at Oakland Public Conservatory of Music: 

 In 2021, two lecture-workshops (both hosted by Black cultural expert and banjoist Tony Thomas) were presented by BOTMC at Oakland Public Conservatory of Music.  In past years, the BOTMC has sponsored workshops at OPC by Dom Flemons.


5.  The Attribution project - purpose:  to foster attribution in transforming cultural appropriation to cultural appreciation.

Started in 2021. Each year we will honor an old time musician  from under-represented groups by having their music performed and taught at the BOTMC, and we will also make a collectible illustrated card, with original artwork commissioned from an artist of color on one side and biographical info on the other.  In 2021, we honored Gus Cannon and Will Adam and our artwork was commissioned from Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh. In 2022, we will honor North Carolina guitarist and banjoist Etta Baker


6.  The BOTMC Anti-Racist Study Group — an informal group formed in 2019 (invitation only, so that it can remain small enough for discussion) drawn from our Organizing Group (current and past members)  - we meet monthly on Zoom  — discussions generally revolve around a book or a podcast or film. Usually but not always related to traditional music, or at least, to music.