A reader writes:
One cultural aspect that shows how just how deep that multi-racial mixture goes is too often forgotten, and that is: The banjo is an African instrument. Yep, the signature hillbilly instrument, the key to bluegrass (and by extension, white country), the sound that conjures up "Deliverance," corn liquor, and high-speed backroad getaways, was brought over here on slave ships.
Take a look at one sometime -- it's damn near a percussion instrument. It's essentially a snare drum with strings. There's a reason why the first marching jazz bands in New Orleans used banjos -- one, they can be loud, and two, you can get a nice percussive snap when you play one right. And since you can't easily carry a drum kit as you march, the banjo filled in nicely, and remained a jazz rhythm instrument until guitars -- especially amplified electric guitars -- came around in the late '30s.
Sure, everybody knows how white people co-opted blues to create rock and roll (and black musicians like Jimi Hendrix and George Clinton swiped it right back to make psychedelia and funk). But not many people realize that when they see "Deliverance's" Banjo Boy tear up Dueling Banjos (or heck, when Earl Scruggs and Steve Martin -- one of the whitest guys alive -- do Foggy Mountain Breakdown), they're seeing an art form that has its roots in Africa. Even the (supposedly) whitest of white music is inextricably linked to black culture and our history of slavery, and we're richer for it.