Justin Robinson ’05, left, and members of his new band, The Mary Annettes (Josh Stohl, Sally Mulligan and Kyra Moore ’04) play a tune at
Jessee’s Coffee & Bar in Carrboro. Robinson won a Grammy this year with his prior band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Justin Robinson ’05 was 8 years old when he start-
Tennessee Chocolate Drops.
ed playing the violin, but by age 13 he dropped the rig-
ors of classical music to move on to other interests. He
didn’t pick up the instrument again until his senior year
at UNC, when he picked it up as a “fiddle.”
Tossing aside any aspirations on the part of his
Carolina Opera singer mother, Robinson went looking
for an 80-year-old black fiddler, Joe Thompson. “I saw
something online about a black banjo gathering,” says
Robinson, who also is African-American, “so I invited
myself, and I went there with the intention of meeting
Joe. I knew he lived in Mebane and went with inten-
tion of meeting him and going to his house to play.”
Robinson met Thompson and a woman named
Rhiannon Giddens. They started meeting regularly at
Thompson’s home, where he taught them the old
style of playing. Then Dom Flemming, a kid from
Arizona, started up with Joe. In 2005, the three young
players formed The Carolina Chocolate Drops, named
after the 1930s black old-time string band The
In a stage show at the Shakori Hills Festival in
Chatham County, the “Drops” caught the eye of Tim
Duffy ’ 91 (MA), the founder and president of the Music
Makers Relief Foundation. Started as a label for older
blues artists, Duffy was looking to bring up new talent.
They cut a record, started touring under the tutelage of
Taj Mahal and kept on climbing. This year the band’s
album Genuine Negro Jig won a Grammy.
Never one for sitting still, Robinson had already
formed another band, Justin Robinson and The Mary
Annettes, with Kyra Anne Moore ’04, Sally Mulligan
and Josh Stohl. “I found a band through Craigslist,”
Robinson quips. “You can find anything else you want,
why not people?”
Grammy in hand, Robinson has left the Carolina
Chocolate Drops to finish his UNC degree, settled in to
play with his new band and cultivated a new goal: grad-
uate study in ecology and conservation.