A century of forgetfulness and erasure has led to diminished public awareness of the Black string band tradition - and equally diminished numbers of Black string bands. Once numerous, these ensembles have grown few and far between. In recent decades, only one Black string band has emerged per generation. The 1980's saw the birth of the Ebony Hillbillies. Nearly three decades later, the Carolina Chocolate Drops formed and took the tradition to new heights. As of 2023, a new Black string band has emerged to carry the torch: New Dangerfield.
New Dangerfield was originally conceptualized by award-winning bluegrass banjoist Tray Wellington, who enlisted three other acclaimed Black roots musicians: multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Kaïa Kater, bassist Nelson Williams (Chris Jones & the Night Drivers), and fiddler and singer Jake Blount. The band debuted at IBMA Bluegrass Live! and received a standing ovation for their set at the Red Hat Amphitheater. Irrepressible and adventurous from the start, the band is musically versatile and charismatic.
The band chose its name as a tribute to Dangerfield Newby, a Black man who raided Harper's Ferry with John Brown and was memorialized with a fiddle tune bearing his name. Dangerfield, himself a former slave, fought with John Brown in a last-ditch effort to free his enslaved wife and children - an effort which did not succeed. Dangerfield's story reveals the moments of unspeakable tragedy and fierce resistance woven into the Black string band tradition. Love, grief, rage and humor have been passed down in this music for hundreds of years; ancient emotions, now given voice in the music of New Dangerfield.