BY JOE MARVILLI
If you are looking to enjoy a great, local concert this month, there is no better place to go than the Queens Botanical Garden.
The garden will host The Ebony Hillbillies, New York City’s only African-American string band, on Aug. 16, from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. The concert is part of the venue’s Music in the Garden summer series, where different artists perform under the stars and among the flora and fauna.
The Ebony Hillbillies’ vibe embraces traditions such as bluegrass, folk, jazz, ragtime, country and more to create a joyful sound. Led by violinist and vocalist Henrique Prince, the group includes Norris Bennet (banjo, dulcimer, guitar and vocals), two-time Grammy winner William “Salty Bill” Salters (bass and vocals), Newman Taylor Baker (washboard, percussion, vocals), and Gloria Thomas Gassaway (bones and vocals).
By performing string band music, the Ebony Hillbillies are helping to keep a legacy that played a big role in the gestation of all-American music, according to Prince.
“Documented fiddling by Black musicians goes back to the 1600’s in New York,” he said. “And the banjo, of course, came to the U.S. from West Africa, and nobody but Black musicians played a banjo until the 19th century. They were all handmade instruments.”
Black string bands were in high demand during the 19th century. One of the most famous musicians from that era is Solomon Northup, whose life was immortalized on film in “12 Years A Slave.”
This style of music would eventually lead to ragtime, jazz, blues, bluegrass, rockabilly and rock and roll. As such, the Ebony Hillbillies keeps the genre alive with a set of traditional and original tunes.
The concert, made possible with the support of Astoria Bank, is free with Garden admission. Admission costs $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and $2 for children between 3 and 12 and students with ID. Botanical Garden members can visit the Garden for free. For more information, call (718) 886-3800.
Queens Botanical Garden is located at 43-50 Main St., Flushing.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JoeMarvilli.