Jake Blount is an award-winning banjoist, fiddler, singer and scholar based in Providence, RI. He is half of the internationally touring duo Tui, a 2020 recipient of the Steve Martin Banjo Prize, and a board member of Bluegrass Pride. He is a two-time winner and many-time finalist of the Appalachian String Band Music Festival (better known as Clifftop). Although he is proficient in multiple performance styles, he specializes in the music of Black and indigenous communities in the southeastern United States, and in the regional style of Ithaca, New York. He foregrounds the experiences of queer people and people of color in his work. He has studied with modern masters of old-time music, including Bruce Molsky, Judy Hyman (of the Horse Flies), and Rhiannon Giddens and Hubby Jenkins (of the GRAMMY-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops).
Blount grew up in Washington, DC. He learned to play electric guitar starting at age twelve, and played in bands with his peers for several years. At age sixteen, he stumbled across Megan Jean & the KFB in an Ethiopian restaurant. It was his first time meeting full-time independent musicians, and hearing clawhammer banjo. Inspired by their music, and that of other early-2010’s Americana acts, Blount made the leap to acoustic music.
Blount enrolled at Hamilton College in 2013. He received his first banjo lessons from Dr. Lydia Hamessley the same fall, and started to structure a course of study around the early traditional music of Black communities in the United States. String band music became his main focus, and he took up the fiddle in the summer of 2014.
Blount first achieved widespread recognition within the old-time scene when his band, The Moose Whisperers, claimed first place in the traditional band contest at Clifftop. Blount was the first Black person to make the finals in any category, and he has repeated the feat multiple times since. The following summer, he launched his career in earnest: he received his B.A. in ethnomusicology and released his debut EP, Reparations, with Tatiana Hargreaves. He toured Scandinavia and released a CD with the Moose Whisperers in 2018. He opened several shows for MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Rhiannon Giddens the same year, and joined Libby Weitnauer to form the duo Tui while on a tour of Australia and New Zealand.
Tui released their debut album, Pretty Little Mister, in mid-2019. Shortly thereafter, Blount claimed first place in the banjo contest at Clifftop with three tunes from Black banjoists. He was selected as a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Leadership Bluegrass Class of 2020.
Blount released his debut solo album, Spider Tales, on May 29, 2020 through Free Dirt Records. Produced by Jeff Claus and Judy Hyman (of the Horse Flies) and featuring Tatiana Hargreaves, Nic Gareiss, Rachel Eddy and Haselden Ciaccio, the album debuted at #2 on the Billboard Bluegrass Chart and received widespread critical praise. The Guardian declared it an “instant classic” and awarded it five out of five stars. Bandcamp selected it as Album of the Day, and it received positive coverage in NPR, Rolling Stone Country, Billboard Pride and AV Club. Spider Tales later appeared on “Best of 2020” lists from NPR, Bandcamp, The New Yorker, the Guardian, and elsewhere.
Blount has shared his music and research at the Newport Folk Festival, the Smithsonian Institution and Yale University, among other venues and institutions. He has appeared on podcasts including Radiolab and Soundcheck. He regularly teaches fiddle and banjo at camps like the Augusta Heritage Center’s Old-Time Week, the Ashokan Center’s Old-Time Rollick, and Earful of Fiddle Music and Dance Camp.
“On top of being wildly intelligent and knowledgeable, he’s also a killer musician and it’s an incredible combo.” – Rhiannon Giddens
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