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 Flemons, Brandi Waller-Pace 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.
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. Cards from 2023 are pictured above. We honored Cherokee fiddler Sam O'Fields, with artwork and bio by his great-nephew, old-time fiddler Nokosee Fields, who performed at the 2023 BOTMC. Our other honorees for 2023 were Joe and Odell Thompson, Black string band players from North Carolina; artwork was from Black artist Noa Denmon. In 2022 we honored North Carolina guitar and banjo player Etta Baker and Andrew & Jim Baxter, a father-son duo from Georgia. Our initial honorees in 2021 were Will Adam, Black fiddler from KenGar Maryland, and pioneer banjo legend Gus Cannon of Memphis Tennessee. Stay tuned for our 2024 cards!
"In doing the project, I have found a new sense of pride for what I do and how it runs in my family. It really did help me feel more connected to Sam O’Fields, and realize how much in common I have with someone from my family. It was good to be "forced" into a creative visual space, as well as something that had to do with a relative from my Cherokee side. I'm looking forward to visiting his relatives and listening and digitizing his cassettes and learning from them. "
Nokosee Fields, Cherokee fiddler
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 is administered by OPC. The outcome will be the establishment of an old-time music program at OPC, with classes, jams and other activities. The BOTMC acts in an advisory capacity and helps with fund-raising.
Four local Black string musicians are receiving intensive mentoring from two Black old-time master musicians, Jake Blount and Earl White, with additional instruction and mentoring from other Black musicians and cultural experts. Most of this takes place 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). Although this was intended to be a one-time only program, there has been so much interest that OPC is considering turning it into an ongoing program, with the second cohort of fellows beginning the program in 2025 or 2026.
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 eventually offer a repeat of "From Appropriation to Appreciation" (because of technical difficulties last time).
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 BOTMC events as part of our festival in 2024.
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 mainly 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)