Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo


Was reading the other day about religion in the 19th century, the various revivals, etc., and got to thinking about how these related with the simultaneous rise in banjo playing by Whites generally, the rise of minstrelsy in the North, etc.  Has anyone encountered references (pre-1865) that would illuminate the reaction various clergy or congregations had to the banjo?  Methodists supposedly were pretty strict on things like dancing, yet we know many danced anyway, so to what extent would there have been a hard-line stance against the banjo versus a toleration?  There were missions to the slave populations, at least in the Methodist-Episcopal Church South, so missionaries working among the enslaved would surely have been exposed to the gourd banjos slaves were playing into the 1850s...but did they condemn them?  Tolerate them?  Would the idea of a preacher who is actually open to the banjo and its use, within reason in regard to lyrics of course, be a non-historic fallacy?  Or could you have still been a clergy member during the 1850s-60s for example and still have an appreciation or fondness for popularized banjo tunes/playing (though with obvious reservations regarding some of the minstrel stuff of course)?  

Hopefully that makes some kind of sense.  Was just a random curiosity that came to mind.


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This relates to the dance side of things.

My mom grew up in far western Maryland in the 1920's and I asked her if were any fiddle or banjo players around, she said there might have been "down in the hollow", but her family were church going people and would have known those kind of folks.

As a seminarian and someone who has carefully studied religious history, there is surprisingly little about banjo.  However, given the wide views on musical practice in the church during this time period, banjo would be seriously frowned on.

1.  There was great disparity in various churches views on music.

      a.  Some did not believe in music at all

      b.  Some only sang psalms

      c.  Some forbade the use of instruments

      d.  Some only allowed piano or organ.

2.  Banjo was considered a secular instrument, usually associated with minstrel shows.  Frank Converse wrote about coming to a town to perform a show and the theatre was empty.  The local town minister called a prayer meeting the night of the show.  He wrote all over the posted bills announcing the concert.  Converse was very humorous in writing about the issue.

3.  I saw a remark about a banjo being seen at a camp meeting.  The remark was such that I would say it was considered very unusual.

4.  Converse also commented on a minister whose son was taking lessons from him, and liked the sound of the banjo, but felt he couldn't learn to play as well because of his profession.

Thanks for the feedback, guys!  So basically it would have been extremely rare to find a preacher familiar with the banjo.  I had half-hoped I was onto something with the missionary to the slaves during the pre-war years line of research, but so far have still come up with nill.  


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