Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I happened to come across a film at the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison last week that might be of interest to some on this forum. Produced and directed by Jim Carrier and entitled "The Librarian and the Banjo", it tells the story of Dena Epstein and her efforts to, at first, uncover and compile primary resources chronicling the songs, tunes, and instruments of enslaved African-Americans, and later to use those resources to write a history of antebellum African-American music.  Her 25 years of research culminated in the 1977 book "Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War", which was instrumental in encouraging the academic study of vernacular African-American music.  The book included the argument that the banjo was originally a black folk instrument whose history could be traced to 17th and 18th century Caribbean islands, and beyond that back to African plucked lute antecedents.  That is hardly new information in 2013, but some people credit Dena and her book with helping to prompt the current interest in the banjo's African-American and African heritage (realizing that much may have been written on that topic in earlier generations). 

I found it to be an interesting story.  I realize some here may not fully agree with the "Afro-Caribbean origin" premise, or have much interest in all the current African banjo roots research.  And there are things to quibble about, such as the repeated comment "The banjo came from Africa" (one commentator is more precise and accurate, talking about "African plucked lutes adopting European fretboards and tuning pegs" to give birth to the banjo). But the film is not a history of the banjo, it is really about Dena Epstein, and she is a worthy subject.  Just the account of how much effort and patience it took to do such research (from home, while raising two children) in the pre-Internet days of the 1950s, 60s and 70s made for fascinating viewing.

Anyway, I don't know about plans for future screenings, but the film is available directly from the filmmaker, Jim Carrier.  You can order it from his website, jimcarrier.com.  That site also has a reprint of a recent article from the Wisconsin State Journal, reviewing the film and giving some background on its genesis, on Jim's efforts to bring it to completion, and on Dena herself.

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Just watched the trailer, I want to see more.

I ordered my copy, and entered the drawing. I'm excited to see this movie.

Ordered it from where?

Sweet Thanks Valerie! Good luck on the drawing!!!

There will be a screening of this film at next month's event at Appomattox Courthouse, Va. called

Joel Sweeney & The Banjo- from Africa to Appomattox: A Celebration of Convergence.

Look for it under the events heading. We hope to see many there and at the Sweeney Banjo Convergence happening the day before and the day after.

Great comments about Jim's documentary. A worthy project, indeed! We're planning to do a screening of this documentary at AEBG-VI!!! 

About ten days ago Jim Carrier posted his movie to YouTube -- I watched it yesterday.  Very satisfying to see so many of the AEBG folks (and a few people I know from elsewhere) on the sensible side of this topic.  I never knew Dena Epstein personally, but I think we swapped a couple of letters in the early 70s.  We had a lot of mutual friends, especially Archie Green and Judy McCulloh.  My copy of her Sinful Tunes and Spirituals is the hardback, from the first printing, and I got it when it came out.  Anyway, here's the link; there are a couple of ads to skip over, at the beginning and the middle, but otherwise it runs about 56 minutes and you should leave that much time for watching it.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZSstEk_eKk&feature=youtu.be

Thanks for that tip. I watched it yesterday. 

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