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21. Indian and the Woodchuck

In April of 1941 Nashville's all-Black Fisk University celebrated its 75th anniversary by having faculty member and folklorist John Work select Black musicians for the program of Tennessee folk music. Among others, he selected fiddler Frank Patterson and banjoist Nathan Frazier. Frazier and Patterson had met earlier in the 1930s, but it is unclear whether they played much together. Nevertheless they played as if they had been together for years. John Work, program host, explained how Patterson in this program would play tunes he had learned 40 years earlier and that the audience should not expect “a sweet, vibrant tone,” but “driving rhythm and astounding melodic patterns and ornamentation, most of which he inherited from the tradition.” In explanation as to why there was no guitarist, Work told the audience of Frazier's complaint that “guitar players were so soft that he could not find one that could keep up with him.” The next year John Work set about to record the duo, resulting in 14 tunes, including, minstrel tunes, blues numbers and breakdowns. The duo typically played for square dances with white dancers and a white caller. Patterson had been in earlier string bands; Frazier was a street musician in Nashville, who entertained by singing and doing tricks like twirling the banjo in mid-number, not unlike famous banjoist Uncle Dave Macon. This particular tune was also played by DeFord Bailey, Black harmonica player and Grand Old Opry star. (notes to (Altamont) The very few early Black fiddlers who were either recorded or mentioned as mentors to white fiddlers, for example Cuje Bertram and Owen Walker, taught and recorded primarily the same tunes played by their white counterparts,. But the Frazier/Patterson (also the Lusk/Gribble) recordings offer a rare window into what African Americans played for themselves. In the breakdowns, for instance, there is less emphasis on melody and more on rhythm and repetition of short phrases.

Chris' Strad GDGD
Chris' banjo dGDGA