BOTMC and Equity, Diversity, Inclusion
This page is a work in progress, and since the work never stops,
this page will periodically be updated.
“The Black Banjo and Fiddle Fellowship is a missing link in the propagation of the influence of the African American role in the development of American music. The African American experience touches every genre of music created in America . . . and it is important that the knowledge of this fact be cultivated in the African American musical community. ”
Dom Flemons (the American Songster and co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops)
The BOTMC is very pleased to announce the launch of the Black Banjo & Fiddle Fellowship, a collaboration between the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music (OPC) and the Berkeley Old Time Music Convention. The BBFF project aims to repatriate old-time music in African American communities and illuminate the Black experience in creating old-time music. BBFF is a two-year paid fellowship program that trains Black musicians in old-time music and its rich history. To repair the historical and cultural ruptures that erased the Black origins of banjo and fiddle music and to ensure that the tradition is sustained in Black communities, the BBFF is also a teacher-training program. It will train apprentices to teach the music, ensuring that it can be passed down from generation to generation.
Four Fellows (not a gender-specific term) have been selected and have begun working (via Zoom) with mentors Earl White, Jake Blount and Tony Thomas. You can read about all of these musicians HERE.
Our heartfelt thanks to Dom and the many other old-time musicians and folklorists, both Black and white, who freely consulted with us when we designed this project.
Biggest thanks to OPC founder-director Angela Wellman for giving us the opportunity to assist in the creation of this innovative program. The BBFF Planning Committee is Angela Wellman (OPC) and Suzy Thompson and Karen Celia Heil of the BOTMC.
Pictured above: 2022 Attribution Project Honorees Etta Baker (with banjo) and her sister Cora (photo by Alice Gerrard); Andrew & Jim Baxter (photographer unknown)
Here are some of the BOTMC's other current 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. 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 2022 we honored North Carolina guitar and banjo player Etta Baker and Andrew & Jim Baxter, a father-son duo from Georgia. We educated people about their lives and music via lecture, workshop and collectible cards with beautiful original artwork by Zoë Sinclair! Valerie Turner (of Piedmont Blūz) taught one of Etta Baker’s songs in her guitar workshop, Earl White talked about the Baxters in his “Black Americans in Old Time Music: Then & Now” presentation, and the collectible cards were distributed at all festival events. Stay tuned for news of our 2023 honorees!
3. Black Banjo and Fiddle Fellowship Project (see above) - The BBFF is a two-year apprenticeship and music teacher training program, two years in the planning and launched in May 2023. It is a collaboration between the BOTMC and the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music (OPC), a music school rooted in the local Black community, and will be administered by 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 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 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, and a grant from ACTA (Alliance for California Traditional Arts) to support fees for the Black tradition bearers who will be involved. We will soon begin raising funds for Year Two.
The planning committee (Angela Wellman, Director of the Oakland Public Conservatory; Suzy Thompson, BOTMC Director; 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 Dom Flemons, Ben Hunter, and Valerie Diaz.
4. 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. Two have been held so far: “Calling In - Becoming an Anti-Racist Ally in a Jam Session" and “From Appropriation to Appreciation". We hope to offer a repeat of "From Appropriation to Appreciation" (because of technical difficulties last time) some time in 2023.
5. 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 and performances at OPC by Dom Flemons. We hope to offer some events at OPC during the 2023 BOTMC festival.
6. The BOTMC Anti-Racist Study Group — an informal group formed in 2020 (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.
Berkeley Old Time Music Convention
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)