Banjo History Videos

Here are some videos on banjo history, noting especially the early banjo’s roots in Africa and the Caribbean:

Akonting Roundtable Segment One: The History and Music of the Akonting

A roundtable discussion on the akonting and related instruments held at the Suwannee Banjo Camp in March, 2009, with Sana Ndiaye, Chuck Levy, Paul Sedgwick, Greg C. Adams, John Catches and Tony Pizzo.

Akonting Roundtable Segment Two: Some Recent Adaptations of the Akonting and Musical Examples

A roundtable discussion on the akonting and related instruments held at the Suwannee Banjo Camp in March, 2009, with Sana Ndiaye, Chuck Levy, Paul Sedgwick, Greg C. Adams, John Catches and Tony Pizzo.

Minstrel Banjo – A window to the slave origins of clawhammer banjo, with Bob Winans (2014)

Banjo Scholar, Dr. Bob Winans, explains how his study of the minstrel banjo, at one time a controversial subject because of minstrel stereotypes, is revealing how slaves played the banjo. Comparing African American banjo players in the 1970s with banjo “tutors” from the 1800s, Winans has found a remarkable link. Their playing styles are similar – one “recorded” in the 1800s, the other passed down through oral tradition by black musicians over 150 years.

History of the Banjo (Chicago Humanities Festival) (2013)

The banjo’s sound is synonymous with country, folk, and bluegrass—music as “white” as it gets. For many, it’s the quintessential American instrument. Its origin, though, lies in Africa, in various instruments featuring skin drum heads and gourd bodies. Slaves fashioned them into the modern version in the colonial Caribbean, from where it traveled, via 19th-century minstrel shows, into the very heart of American popular culture. Duke University historian Laurent Dubois, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Caribbean, traces the banjo’s extraordinary trajectory and the part it has played in the very concept of America.

 PBS: “History of the Banjo” (2009) >>

In the 19th century, Philadelphia was a major center for banjo sales. Here, banjo collector Peter Szego and banjo dealer Frederick W. Oster take us for a musical tour of the instrument’s African-American roots.

PBS: “The Banjo” (1998) >>

The banjo actually originated in Africa, and as Folkways host David Holt explains, slowly migrated to the Southern mountains after the Civil War. The Banjo weaves together the history and technique of the instrument that has made its reputation as an icon of the South. While the banjo has enjoyed popularity in the South for over 100 years, its history in the world is much longer.

More to come…

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