Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hi All,

I had posted this on the old site and recently discovered that someone on Banjo Hangout referenced it.

Just in case anyone comes looking, I thought it prudent to repost it. Please excuse the redundancy if you've already read it.

Near the end of his career, Converse wrote a series of articles called "Banjo Reminiscences" for The Cadenza. In the July 1901 issue he wrote the following and included the piece in the attached pdf.



Text accompanying the early black banjo piece in Converse’s Cadenza (July 1901) article:

“The first banjo I ever heard was in the hands of a colored man--a bright mulatto--whose name I have forgotten. He frequently visited Elmira and the neighboring villages, playing and singing and passing his hat for collections. His repertoire was not very extensive, but, with his comicalities, sufficed to gain him a living. I cannot say that I learned anything from his execution, which, though amusing, was limited to the thumb and first finger,--pulling or “picking” the strings with both. He was quite conceited as to his abilities (pardonable in banjo players, I believe), and to impress his listeners with a due appreciation of them, he would announce that such a trifling circumstance as the banjo being out of tune caused him no inconvenience and so, with a seemingly careless fumbling of the pegs, he would disarrange the tuning--”fro de banjo out a’ tune,” he said--but merely pitching the second string a semitone higher.

The following morceaux, which I still recall, was his piece de resistance with the instrument fro’d out a’ tune, and thinking it may amuse your readers, I give it.”


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In my transcription, I have included tab for those who don't read notes.

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I'm REALLY late responding to this post, but I'm new to the site and am just now plowing through the discussions. Many of you probably know this already, but Clarke Buehling recorded a nice version of this for his CD remake of his "Out of His Gourd" tape from the '90s. He calls it "Morceau."

Rob MacKillop said:
Well, I'm very late responding to this post, but here goes...

I've been looking for early pieces to play on a gourd banjo, and this fits the bill perfectly. What I found interesting is that the player was using upstrokes with the index finger - well, that is my interpretation of the text, you might disagree. As my stroke playing is utterly useless, this fills me with hope!

Secondly, clearly Converse couldn't remember exactly the first piece he ever heard, so maybe there is as much Converse in the notation as there is a long-forgotten black player. One is tempted to say it has the wiff of authenticity, but how the hell would I know that? Still, it's a great little piece, which one shouldn't take too literally just because it is written down. I imagine a healthy doze of improv around it would be a good thing.

Looking forward to trying it on my gourd when it arrives in a couple of weeks...

Thanks for posting it, Jim.

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