Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I'm not particularly optimistic that tonight's program will offer anything insightful in regards to the minstrel era--but who knows I could be wrong.  Hopefully they'll take their time with the classic era.  I suspect that the meat of the show will be on the 20th century clawhammer style and the evolution of Scruggs style.

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The racial issue is an interesting one. In the UK, minstrel shows were very popular during the Victorian and Edwardian eras and the sight of white, black-face performers was common. What must be remembered is that at that time, unless resident in one of the port cities, the average Brit rarely, if ever, came into contact with black people and their attitude towards them was quite different from those of some U.S. citizens.  Slavery was abolished in the then British empire in 1833 and by the end of the 1800's it was a distant memory to most. The use of the N and C words was commonly used by performers and composers such as Morley and Grimshaw but they were not identified as particularly insulting to  British audiences. My  mother, who is now 89 years old, was born and brought up in Birmingham and until the advent if immigration in the 1950's, had never met or seen a black person. There was little knowledge of the suffering of black Americans during and post slavery.

I too thought that the show tried to do a lot and ended up not doing enough in those areas I was inaterested in. But that minstral era banjo was mentioned at all is something of a miracle.... Not too many years ago it was simply not talked about in polite academic society and broad casting of it on this scale would simply not have happened. I suspect that even on a web site as esoteric as this there may be a bump in participation for a while at least.

My hope is that (early) banjo will not become so mainstream that I lose interest in it.... I am getting too old to develope another musical interest. Or maybe not....

Where was Uncle Dave Macon? Leroy Troy? John Hartford? Taj Mahal? And What was that waste of breathe at the end with Rodney Crowell and Roseanne Cash?

You naysayers are nuts. Cover the whole history of banjo in 82 minutes? Sure, the four-string banjo is going to end up on the cutting room floor (Steve Martin said right at the beginning "the 5-string banjo," so you know that was going to happen), as are a lot of things that have been mentioned above. I really don't see how this documentary could have been done any better to bring a layperson up to some kind of speed on the history of the banjo in 1 hr. 22 min. Sure, personal taste comes into it, but you can't please everyone all of the time. I would just think that anytime people like Jerron Paxton and the Carolina Chocolate Drops get on national television, and minstrelsy, coon songs, and jug bands get spoken about for more than ten seconds, that the people on this site would be jumping up and down in jubilant celebration.


I do hope the DVD does contain a lot of extras and fills in more gaps, but as a fan of nearly all kinds of banjo (especially pre-bluegrass), I think this was an A+ as far as the musicians covered, music and musicians presented, and the production (camera work, editing, narration).  


I think we have a lot to be thankful for, and you all need to go "like" The Banjo Project on Facebook and send them some money so the things that you complained about being MIA can show up as extras in the DVD and be collected by the project's efforts. 

I remember an article Sonny Osborne wrote in BNL back in the seventies.  He was going through his mailbag and someone asked him "Why aren't there any black banjo players?" and Sonny said "I don't know, maybe they can't get the rhythm right!"  It was a flippant, kidding remark, the kind anyone at the time could have made, and I'm not accusing Sonny of racism, but I think that kind of thinking was the norm back then.  Things have changed, because of Dr. Bob and the resurgence of interest in banjo history.  That may be what Greg was getting at with his comment on the show.

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