Best of female artists at SUNSTAR festival

Dom Flemons of the Grammy Award-winning string band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops believes that women in music and in general need to be celebrated.

“Women create life and they are the most important entity in the world and especially in the music business, which is a very male centered business,” said Flemons, 28, who lives in New York City. In addition to Flemons, other members of the band include Rhiannon Giddens, Adam Matta, Hubby Jenkins.


That’s why he and his band mates decided to become a part of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s second bi-annual SUNSTAR Festival.

First held in 2009, the four-day song and art fest celebrates the best in local and national feminine talent.

“It’s important that we’re celebrating women and music and especially women who are independent artists because they have trouble getting heard,” explained Janera Solomon, Kelly Strayhorn Theater executive director. “There’s always a question of why it’s important. There used to be women-oriented festivals like the Lillith Fair and others and a lot of them have ended because lack of support. This festival gives women the chance to be themselves and not be overshadowed by their male counterparts.”

The SUNSTAR Festival, which begins on March 2 and runs through March 5, will feature the creme de la creme of local and national performers—30 artists, 12 events, in four days.

“We want to give women the chance to shine,” Solomon said. “Sometimes it scares people when you say it’s an all women festival or event, but there’s something for everyone and there’s no other festival in Pittsburgh that brings a mix of people together.”

The event opens with a showing of Monica Enriquez’s directed film, “Unbinded Desires.” The movie showcases the parallel images of bondage as an expression of queer difference accompanied by conversations with queers. The free event will be held from 7-9 p.m. March 2, at the KellyStrayhorn Theater.

Author Rebecca Walker, who penned the feminist bible “To Be Real: Telling The Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism,” will hold a lecture, question and answer session and a book signing March 3, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Local artists Dr. Goddess, Kellee Maize of Hip-Hop L.O.C.K., the Staycee Pearl Dance Project and The Kelly Strayhorn Alumni Theater Co. will be on hand to perform in the SUNSTARS in the Making, a culturally diverse music seminar for young girls. The event will be held March 4, from 3-5 p.m. at the theater. The cost is $5.

“I hope this will inspire girls to want to become artists. There are other types of artists besides being a Beyonce, or Lady Gaga. There are so many women who are incredibly smart and talented who need inspiration,” Solomon said.

London-born, New York-bred DJ, radio host, educator and activist DJ Rekha will be bringing her brand of Bhangra and hip-hop music to the SUNSTAR festival. Local artists Machete Kisumontao, a six-piece Puerto Rican salsa and reggae band, DJ’s Carla Leininger of Global Beats and Jenny Jihad will also be on the bill. The show will be held March 4, 9 p.m.-2 a.m.

On March 5, the Carolina Chocolate Drops will deliver their unique sounds in a concert that includes opening acts DJ Shorty Rock and Vanessa German.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops got their start in October 2005 after the members attended the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, N.C. The Carolina Chocolate Drops started in Durham, NC and learned much of its repertoire of old time music from famed African-American old time fiddler, Joe Thompson.

“All of us were interested in folk and old time music in one way or another. All of us are pretty eccentric and outside of the box and we were interested in the lyrics and the stories that old time music told,” Flemons said. “There’s history in Black banjo music. Just being Black and playing a banjo is statement in itself, but we’re making music that we are content with but people have taken a liking to it.”

The Carolina Chocolate Drops, which derived its name from the 1930s string band, the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, is one of two active Black string bands around.

Old Time music is a genre of North American folk music, which got its roots from the folk music in England, Scotland, Ireland and Africa.

The Carolina region of the United States is where Africa is most mixed into the music, which has been in existence since 1923. According to records, many African slaves were talented musicians who played early 18th century instruments like the fiddle, banjo and piano. Slave documents and advertisements of the day often listed musical abilities of individual African slaves as a selling point, as slaves were frequently asked to perform for their masters.

“We have been able to get as far as we have because people are interested in seeing an old time fiddler banjo band and hearing the music. There are people who have never heard that kind of music and they like the sound. The crowds are very diverse and we’ve been fortunate that we’ve had young people who were interested in our music,” Flemons said.

Tickets for Carolina Chocolate Drops concert are $25.

Festival passes can be purchased for $50. People in the 15206 zip code can purchase festival passes for $25.

To purchase tickets for any SUNSTAR festival event, call 412-363-3000 or visit

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