Dom Flemons, The American Songster

Dom Flemons, a talented roots singer and multi-instrumentalist, known to the public as the “American Songster,” performed a lively set @ The Burren in Somerville last night.


Dom Flemons


In the second half of the show, Flemons spoke to the intimate audience about the making of his new album Prospect Hill, which features both original and traditional blues and old-time tunes. Watch one of his most popular songs, “Polly Put the Kettle On,” here:



Flemons is an intelligent and thoughtful musician. He makes a point of highlighting the undocumented narratives of black music in the US. Flemons is working to reclaim the meaning of minstrel songs, which were performed by traveling musicians in the 19th and early 20th centuries wearing blackface, by performing them in his own style. The following video is his interpretation of the minstrel tune “Can You Blame The Colored Man?”:



As a scholar of roots music, Flemons presents the nuances of the history of blackface minstrelsy. In his article “Can You Blame Gus Cannon?” he discusses the reasons why a black musician such as Gus Cannon would choose to wear blackface and participate in a tradition that blatantly mocked black musicians. Flemons writes, “In his music I heard minstrelsy, but I could also hear a novel, legitimate black art form developed from minstrel roots.”



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