Today's Articles

People, Locations, Episodes

Mon, 12.09.1918

Joseph Thompson, Folk Musician born

Joseph Thompson

*Joseph Thompson was born on December 9, 1918. He was a Black folk music old-time fiddle player and one of the last musicians to carry on the Black string band tradition. Joseph Aquiler Thompson was born in Orange County, North Carolina. His father, John, a fiddler, and Uncle Walter, a banjo player, performed at local square dances and corn shucking.

When Thompson took up the fiddle at seven years old, he closely observed his father's techniques, which were rooted in African tradition. He joined his father and uncle for performances and later formed his string band with his older brother Nate and cousin Odell, who were banjo players. Much of the band's repertoire consisted of family songs passed down since before the American Civil War, including "Hook and Line" and "Cindy Gal."

After serving in the Second World War and as the popularity of traditional string band music waned, Thompson stopped playing the fiddle to work in a furniture factory as a rip saw operator for 28 years. In 1973, musicologist Kip Lornell, a recent college graduate, heard rumors about Joe and Odell Thompson's mastery of the old-time style and urged the duo to make a comeback. Thompson and Odell began performing as the New String Band Duo nationally and globally, becoming popular fixtures at folk festivals. The duo played at Carnegie Hall, the National Folk Festival, the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, and the Tennessee Banjo Institute. Thompson received several honors for performances of the old-time style, particularly in the 1970s.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he recorded his first studio albums, consisting of a repertoire rooted in the authentic string band approach. In 1989, they recorded the studio album Old-Time Music from the North Carolina Piedmont for the Global Village record label. The duo was awarded the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 1991 for preserving black folk music traditions. When Odell died in a car accident in 1994, Thompson pondered quitting music altogether but recorded the solo album Family Traditions, released on Rounder Records in 1999. A stroke Thompson suffered in 2001 impaired the use of his left arm, but after rehabilitation, he returned to playing.

Although he lamented the lack of interest in old-time music, in 2005, he began mentoring the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a modern-day Black string band. Thompson was married twice and had one son and six step-children. He died in a nursing home in Alamance County, North Carolina, from pneumonia on February 20, 2012; he was 93 years old. Folklorist Wayne Martin commented, "Probably more than anyone else, Joe inspired a national revival of string band music among young generations of African American musicians."

To Become a musician or Singer
To Become a Conductor or Composer

New Poem Each Day

Poetry Corner

O Africa, know thou not my call? Know thy rivers not my love? Claim thy mountains not my heart? O Africa! Homeland of my own! I come with my heart afire; I come with... SONG OF INNOCENCE by Julius E. Thompson.
Read More