Friday, October 18, 2013

Dink Roberts Biographical Information & Other Online Comments

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a two part series on Black banjo songster Dink Roberts. Part II of this series showcases a video clip of Dink Roberts and presents a partial transcriptions of information about Dink Roberts from the annotated notes from the 1998 compilation album Black Banjo Songsters Of North Carolina And Virginia. Selected information and comments about Dink Roberts from other blogs and websites are also included in that post.

Click for Part I of this series. That post showcases a short video clip of Dink Roberts' performing the song "Roustabout". Dink Roberts called that song "Buffalo". "Roustabout" is also known as "Hop High Lulu", "Hop High Lula Gal", "Lula Girl" and other similar names.

The purpose of this post is to increase awareness and access to information about Dink Roberts.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and educational purposes. All copyrights remain with their owners.

I believe that it's criminal that to date there's no Wikepedia pagee for Dink Roberts and it's very difficult to find online information about this artist. I don't have the knowledge and skills to post a Wikepedia page about Dink Roberts. I hope that someone with that ability will do so.

FEATURED VIDEO: Dink Roberts: Fox Chase / Old Rattler (1983)

AlanLomaxArchive, Uploaded on Feb 27, 2012

"Fox Chase / Old Rattler," interspersed with some floating verses, performed by Dink Roberts. Shot by Alan Lomax and crew at Dink's home in Haw River, North Carolina, late July 1983. For more information about the American Patchwork filmwork, Alan Lomax, and his collections, visit [03.29.05]

“Everybody plays music’s got a different sound”.

“Born in Chatham County, North Carolina Dink Roberts (1894-1989) learned his early music from Blacks in Alamance County and elsewhere. When he was nine years old his mother died, and he went to live with his uncle George Roberts in Little Texas, a community of light skinned African American folks like Dink. Dink’s father was apparently a White banjo player. Dink’s maternal Black uncle George also played banjo, as well as fiddle, and later guitar, as did many of his eight children who were much older than Dink. He “caught” music from his family and at local events called “gatherings”, “sets”, and “frolics”.

As a young man Dink worked as a tenant farmer near Haw River. He played music for “eight hands around” dances and other events. He said “three nights a week for Blacks, three nights a week for Whites”. Well respected for his playing, Dink “picked up” extra money from White people and once from a visiting circus troupe. In his later years Dink played mostly at home for the listening, dancing, and fun of his wife, Lily, son James, grandson Mike, and visitors.

On our first visit Dink Roberts seemed old, wise, and mysterious, and his music jarred us...

We visitors were used to old time string bands with tunes played by fiddlers and banjo and guitar players. Some of Dink’s tunes were fiddle melodies that we recognized, but the music came out a different way. Dink also sang on all of his pieces-even fiddle tunes-and didn’t seem to have names for them. Something didn’t fit. Much later, we would understand that our cultural view didn’t fit. Dink’s tradition originated in Africa and was unfamiliar to us.

Over the years we visited these North Carolina musicians and became friends. Each visit began with the an exchange of gifts-the bringing and sharing of food and drink; then the exchange of music. As the visits progressed we realized Dink’s music was not a sequence of individual pieces or set performances of unalterable texts. Dink created musical visits that were spontaneous, non-stop exchanges with family, friends, and visitors.

Our visits reminded us that Black Banjo songsters did much more than one thing at a time. Dink playfully and sensitively orchestrated each visit from arrival to departure and interacted simultaneously with listeners and banjo...

Dink eventually played for local community events, schools, university programs, and major festivals like the 1976 Winter Folk Festival and the Festival of Eno. The Winter Folk Festival Banjo Workshop provided a fine occasion for Dink’s interactive songster banjo style. He was content when Lily jumped up to dance uninvited in the midst of his and others performances…[For his performance style, see the film Dink: A Pre-Blues Musician, which won best –in-the-show in the first North Carolina Film Festival, 1975”.
*These notes are transcribed by Azizi Powell for the purposes indicated earlier in this post.

Dink Roberts Artist Biography by Eugene Chadbourne
..."Although an old-time music enthusiast such as Conway must have appreciated the link between Roberts and Uncle Dave Macon, her book argues that the black banjo songs of artists such as [Dink] Roberts were a distinct musical genre "governed by its own African-American aesthetic standards." Of course, this argument is also made to help counter the so-called wisdom of the past, in which it was suggested black performers had ripped off this kind of material from whites. (Now there's a switch.) Scholars who seek to avoid racial conflicts have completely established another important element of Roberts' music, in that he was one of the rare banjo players whose style was formed before the fiddle became the dominant force. This aspect of Roberts' musical psyche is called "pre-fiddle exposure." It is easily heard in Roberts' clawhammer banjo style as he alternates ostinato melodic lines in a call and response relation to his vocal, a form of playing considered distinctly African."

Re: Dink Roberts Banjo Playing
Message 1 of 6 , Mar 17, 2011

..."Certai9nly as noted Lucius Smith of Mississippi who was even older than Dink also played the first string up picking, actually in a more systematic way than Dink did. While Lucius played a few tunes that he called blues in field recordings I have heard of him, he was ready at a moment's notice to launch into a declamation about how the blues had ruined the world in almost every way. He reckoned things had started going down hill when folks stopped asking for Walking in the Parlor and started asking for Handy's Memphis Blues, which would have been around 1913-1914.

I think the key thing is that the process of revivalism has created orthodoxies and schemas about traditional banjo playing that traditional banjoists never observed or even heard of. All kinds of banjo players, white and black, in the tradition occassionally up picked in what was supposed to be down picking.

More of them had styles that combined up picking and down picking. While this is not my area of expertise, styles combining the two, particularly with first finger brushing, resemble the ways some West African lutes are played. Such styule can be observed among white old time banjoists and in 1920s records of Black guitarists.

I should say that Dink was a great blues guitarist and a great slide player. Folk who had the opportunity were concerned with picturing dink as a "pre blues" musician, even though during most of Dink's life the Blues and its offspring were the major vernacular music where he lived and among those whom he lived. He apparrently did not own a guitar any more and apparently believed that in his infirmity he could handle a banjo easier than a guitar.

I have absolutely no doubt that if someone had similarly wanted to type cast dink as a piedmont blues guitar player, or as a slide blues guitar player, rather than a banjoist, we might be discussing a revelation that the famous Piedmont blues guitar player Dink Roberts also played banjo"...

My thanks to Dink Roberts for his musical legacy.

Thanks also to the publisher of this video on YouTube and those who are quoted in this post.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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