Awesome Greg. I will have a similar opportunity in Feburary when I make a presentation of historical banjo styles to the Society for the Preservation of Blue Grass Music in America (SPBGMA)...although my audience will be much more familiar with the Banjo!
I have been telling the history of the banjo (in storytelling format) at our monthly coffeehouse gigs and all the banjo minutae has gone over quite well.
Keep up the good work, your lectures are always interesting...I hope you got to play for them too!!
To the clawhammer point, it's my understanding that what we call clawhammer is, in detail at least, not anymore the original stroke style brought by Africans to the Americas and indicated in the first tutors. Clawhammer and the other related styles (rapping, framing, frailing, etc.) rather developed gradually in the more isolated parts of the U.S. and Canada. Meanwhile, the "guitar-style" for banjos became more prevelant and branched into into full classical styles, as well as special styles such as two-finger etc., eventually even leading to bluegrass 3-finger style. Certainly all of those styles have survived and are still around, a continuum and a rich heritage that I find fascinating. I merely meant, as you pointed out, that guitar-style became more prevelant than the original stroke style, the African form, and I don't have an agenda for what that means. It just happened that way. We each can appreciate each style regardless of how prevelant it ever was or where it came from. The original stroke style was , after all, only just revived late in the 20th century by researchers and fans of the style.
As to the point d, I concede your point that a more accurate way of describing early banjo technique is that is was a blending of styles. But as to your other point, I would appreciate your passing on any source that claims the major innovations, the flat fingerboard, 5 strings, etc. were done at the hands of slaves/african descendents. From what I've read on it proto-banjos had 4 or fewer strings, hardly any had a flat fretboard, not even to mention a hoop and mechanical tighteners.
America is a melting pot, but there is no purpose in glossing over one set of evidence in preference to another.
e) Lastly, instruments that preceded the banjo (those proto-banjos having other names) took hundreds of years or more to reach that point of development. The object defined finally as a banjo, the thing we recognize as that name, was developed in about 50 years (1820's - 1860's), which should qualify it rightly as a thing original to the Americas, in particular the Antebellum U.S., to at least moderate the African connection for what it meant or didn’t mean to banjo development.
*if the common meaning of the word drone, in a musical dictionary sense, is a constant sound, most often in low register and often of a buzzing nature, than the term "drone string" for the short banjo string is not as accurate as "chime" or "chanterelle"
I really like this particular video of akonting playing: http://youtu.be/lzt0v9roU6g
- i especially like the instrumental part he plays at about 2:00 minute mark....seems minstrel-ish to me.
Check out that major bridge he has on it!