In 2005, Dom Flemons’s life changed when he and his musical collaborators attended the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, NC and forged the vision that produced the landmark band The Carolina Chocolate Drops. For the past three years, Flemons, now a former CCD, has had his world rocked by a different gathering - the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV.
“It was nice to be able to talk with a lot of different cowboy performers in the classic sense of it,” Flemons told WMOT. “Having not grown up in cowboy culture as rancher, I wanted to make sure that whatever I presented was authentic for people that know cowboy music.”
It was all part of the research behind Dom Flemons presents Black Cowboys, a musical and scholarly work released this spring by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In its 18 tracks are old songs collected by folklorists from the 19th and 20th centuries and Flemons originals telling stories that he discovered over a decade of interest and research, such as that of Bass Reeves.
“There was a man, way out West. / Rode ‘round this country with a star on his breast,” Flemons sings in “He’s A Lone Ranger.”
“He was the first deputy U.S. Marshal of the United States that was African American,” says Flemons. “And the first thing I heard about him was that he was the Lone Ranger.”
Or at least the likely inspiration for the white hero of 1950s television. It’s all part of the wild cultural mixing that happened when free black people moved west during Reconstruction to become sharecroppers, mill workers, traders and cowboys.
Flemons, who is originally from Phoenix AZ, says he wanted this first-of-a-kind project to be a definitive overview of the story and its musical expression. “Because it’s such a multi-faceted and amazing part of American history.”
WATCH DOM FLEMONS PERFORM "HE'S A LONE RANGER" AT THE NATIONAL COWBOY POETRY GATHERING...