KUAF Arts Beat: Race, Culture and the Music of American Cowboys

Jul 5, 2018

No figure is more iconic to the United States than the cowboy. The Western hero appears mostly in the form of John Wayne and the Marlboro Man. But on his new album Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys, the founding memeber of the Carolina Chocolate Drops challenges the stereotypes of the frontier. 

Credit Courtesy/Dom Flemons

The collection of cowboy standards and original songs is a tribute to the fabled, complex history of the Wild West. Flemons uses the overlooked stories of African American pioneers- like Bill Pickett, the first black Hollywood cowboy, and Bass Reeves, a U.S. Marshall and possibly inspiration for the Lone Ranger- like the soundtrack to a Western that never was.

African Americans were vital in shaping the American West, Flemons says, down to the tunes they sang, including familiar classics like "Home on the Range." Most of all, he says, he wants this project "to spark cultural memory."

The highly personal Black Cowboys, which takes inspiration from Flemons' own family history of Westward expansion, is part of the African American Legacy Series in conjuction with The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.  

He performs at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art 7 p.m., Saturday, July 7.

Use the streaming link above to hear the entire KUAF Arts Beat.