Introducing Black Cowboys: American Songster Radio S02 Episode 0

Oct 22, 2018

The cowboy is an icon of American culture. But the popular image of the white cowboy skews our perception of what kind of Americans did—and do—cowboying work. 

The American West after the Civil War was a dynamic and ethnically diverse place. As many as a quarter of the cowboys during the frontier era were African Americans.  

Remembering these Americans is crucial to understanding the west as a region and the United States as a country. As author Mike Searles stated in a 2010 NPR interview, “Many people see the West as the birthplace of America. If they only see it as the birthplace of white America, it means basically that all other people are interlopers—they’re not part of what makes an American.”

In this season of American Songster Radio, Dom looks back to the Old West to uncover the African American roots of the American cowboy. Through a mix of personal essays, live conversation, and music performance, he traces the black history of the west from the Civil War through the struggle for civil rights.  

The Black Cowboys podcast was recorded live at Pearl Street Warehouse in Washington D.C. in front of an audience that included staff at Folkways, National Museum of African American History & Culture, and the Library of Congress.  The moderator was Folkways Senior Archivist Jeff Place. 

All six episodes of the podcast season will be available Friday, October 26.  Here's a preview:

Dom Flemons as The American Songster
Credit Tim Duffy / Music Maker

The Black Cowboys podcast complements Dom’s 2018 music release on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys. The album is a part of the label’s African American Legacy Series, a partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It is also part of the Smithsonian Folkways’ 70th Anniversary. Dom has toured with the album nationwide, including three appearances at the Grand Ole Opry. He’ll be back on the road next year, with dates in the U.S. and abroad. Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys peaked at #5 on the Bluegrass Billboard charts, and it’s spent 28 consecutive weeks on the Billboard charts. Dom is also a two-time Emmy nominee. 

Praise for Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys:

  • "Dom Flemons’ new LP Black Cowboys is an essential piece of both art and anthropological study, seeking to correct the narrative on how we represent — and who we leave out of — stories of the Old West." – Rolling Stone
  • “The work Dom Flemons is doing on the West is flat-out revolutionary. Take the time to listen to him talk about Black Cowboys.” – Ann Powers of NPR Music
  • "The album art is impeccable and the 40 pages of liner notes makes Black Cowboys about the coolest of auditory histories no matter what heritage you represent." – No Depression 

Dom’s website:  TheAmericanSongster.com

Buy Dom Flemons Presents Black Cowboys on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings: https://folkways.si.edu/dom-flemons/black-cowboys