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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Banjo in pop culture


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/379359

banjoboyd - Posted - 11/25/2021:  09:39:01


Hi all,



As part of my ongoing research, I'm analyzing pop culture depictions/references of the banjo and how those depictions/references shape perception of the instrument among the general public. Working off of this thread [banjohangout.org/archive/358826], I'm looking to expand the list as much as possible. I'm focused on pre-1980 (Deliverance was 1972, Kermit singing Rainbow Connection was 1979; most stuff after that seems derivative of past media, but I may be missing some things). It can be characters/actors playing the banjo on-screen or otherwise iconic uses of banjo in soundtracks (e.g. the chase scene in Bonnie and Clyde), but it should be obvious and geared toward a general audience.



Cartoon shorts

Felix the Cat: Uncle Tom's Crabbin' (1927)

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: Rival Romeos (1928)

Mickey Mouse: Pioneer Days (1930)

Mickey Mouse: Trader Mickey (1932)

Looney Toons: Yankee Doodle Daffy (1943)

Looney Toons: Hare Trigger (1945)

Mr. Magoo: Ragtime Bear (1949)

Looney Toons: Long-Haired Hare (1949)

Looney Toons: Southern Fried Rabbit (1953)

Looney Toons: No Parking Hare (1954)

Woody Woodpecker: Romp in a Swamp (1959)

The Huckleberry Hound Show: Hillbilly Huck (1960)



Film

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reinder (1964)

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Deliverance (1972)

The Muppets Movie (1979)

Songcatcher (2000)

Oh Brother Where Art Thou (2000)



Live-action television/other

The Andy Griffith Show w/ The Dillards

Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest (1965-66)

Grand Ole Opry

Beverly Hillbillies 

Hee Haw 

Hootenanny

Steve Martin standup w/ banjo (1970s)



 


Edited by - banjoboyd on 11/25/2021 10:55:19

davidppp - Posted - 11/25/2021:  09:46:35


film: Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967)

pickn5 - Posted - 11/25/2021:  09:51:12


Last night I was watching The Last Alaskans and in one of the cabins a banjo was propped up on a chair.

Jerry Hatrick - Posted - 11/25/2021:  10:23:38


If you include films (movies) that include banjo prominently in the soundtrack, then there are surely quite a few others:
Vanishing Point (Doug Dillard)
Smokey and the Bandit
The Return of the Beverley Hillbillies
Cold Mountain
Sabata (if my memory serves).

mrphysics55 - Posted - 11/25/2021:  10:28:41


Father Knows Best



Multiple references to Mr. Anderson being a banjo player in his younger days.



It looked like a Buckbee (Scene in the attic with Betty and Bud)



No playing as far as I know.


Edited by - mrphysics55 on 11/25/2021 10:33:36

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/25/2021:  10:44:36


Felix the cat played the banjo in quite a few cartoons, although most of them were pre-sound, so the banjo is only seen and not heard (some people would probably count that as a blessing).

When I have more time, I'll go through my cartoon DVDs and find some of the titles. I'll also check some other period animation for banjos. Cartoons became popular about the same time as jazz and the tenor banjo, so I'm sure ther are other animated characters who played once in a while.

Another possibility you might consider is Broadway musicals of the early 20th century. Also, are you counting such things as banjo-ukes, banjo mandolins, and guitar banjos?

tdennis - Posted - 11/25/2021:  10:44:41


Don't forget the ubiquitous music from commercials, & background music in documentaries, shorts, opening themes, closing themes, etc. I hear the banjo 10x's more than ever, in this anonymous space. It seems the banjo has been embraced by the culture as a soundtrack instrumentation, even though it may not have the top position in the world of "The Star System",

The Old Timer - Posted - 11/25/2021:  11:10:38


The old movie "Showboat" is reportedly one of the last fairly authentic representation of a classic minstrel show. Plenty of banjos. A Bing Crosby vehicle (plus many other stars).

The Marx Brothers did a big musical number pretending to play 4 banjos in one of their famous movies. I forget if it was Horsefeathers or the one with Captain Spaulding.

Mark Twain wrote extensively and colorfully about the banjo and banjo players.

There were other folk music tv shows in the early 60s where banjo players turned up. Notably "Hootenanny", but there were others too.

Flatt & Scruggs, Jim & Jesse McReynolds, Porter Wagoner, The Wilburn Brothers, The Stanley Brothers and Reno & Smiley all had tv series presenting their music, sometimes with banjo playing guests. Early syndication shows, not network. 1950s and 60s and even the 1970s.

The Glen Campbell network tv show had a featured banjo player every week doing a "folkie" number with Glen. Banjoists included John Hartford, Larry McNeeley and Carl Jackson. Late 1960s.

Flatt & Scruggs had a featured "remote-live" section on Frank McGee's NBC News program in the early 1960s, from the stage of a college somewhere. Frank (at NBC HQ) asked Lester some questions. Lester replied reading from a script. I believe they did two numbers.

The Grand Ole Opry had several one-off tv specials in the 1950s and 60s and bluegrass groups appeared on them.

PBS and TNN broadcast the Grand Ole Opry in various ways in the 1970s and 1980s, and of course bands often had featured banjo players. PBS used the Opry for several years, broadcasting it in its entirety (!!) during pledge week! It was beautifully presented and a REAL TREAT for us northerners. TNN (The Nashville Network on cable) broadcast portions of the Opry every Saturday through the 1980s.

Finally, there were local TV productions of local country/bluegrass bands through the 50s to the 80s where a lot of folks all over the country got their dose of banjo playing. We had two or three such shows even in Maine.

I don't want to make it out that banjo playing was ubiquitous in the media. But through my lifetime so far it has been there, and has been a TREAT when you could catch it.

Omeboy - Posted - 11/25/2021:  12:15:08


From the mid Sixties to early Seventies: The banjo nightclub entertainment craze (featuring plectrum and tenor banjos) that became well established on the east and west coasts as well as other major cities. Of particular note in this phenomenon was the Red Garter Clubs, Your Father's Mustache club chain and notable pubs like the Red Onion. It was like stepping back into the Roaring Twenty's speak-easys.  For a real historical perspective, see this video:  youtube.com/watch?v=bEn-GirfYPw


Edited by - Omeboy on 11/25/2021 12:15:38

Joel Hooks - Posted - 11/25/2021:  12:36:50


quote:

Originally posted by Omeboy

From the mid Sixties to early Seventies: The banjo nightclub entertainment craze (featuring plectrum and tenor banjos) that became well established on the east and west coasts as well as other major cities. Of particular note in this phenomenon was the Red Garter Clubs, Your Father's Mustache club chain and notable pubs like the Red Onion. It was like stepping back into the Roaring Twenty's speak-easys.  For a real historical perspective, see this video:  youtube.com/watch?v=bEn-GirfYPw






Like stepping back into the 1960's version of the 1890s playing instruments from the 1920s and wearing styrofoam hats.



 



Don't forget Shakey's Pizza.

Omeboy - Posted - 11/25/2021:  12:39:54


quote:

Originally posted by Omeboy

From the mid Sixties to early Seventies: The banjo nightclub entertainment craze (featuring plectrum and tenor banjos) that became well established on the east and west coasts as well as other major cities. Of particular note in this phenomenon was the Red Garter Clubs, Your Father's Mustache club chain and notable pubs like the Red Onion. It was like stepping back into the Roaring Twenty's speak-easys.  For a real historical perspective, see this video:  youtube.com/watch?v=bEn-GirfYPw






Right you are, Joel!  Much more accurate.

leehar - Posted - 11/25/2021:  13:02:58


How about Doug Dillard as Clem the banjo player in Popeye (1980)?

banjoboyd - Posted - 11/25/2021:  13:20:49


quote:

Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Felix the cat played the banjo in quite a few cartoons, although most of them were pre-sound, so the banjo is only seen and not heard (some people would probably count that as a blessing).



When I have more time, I'll go through my cartoon DVDs and find some of the titles. I'll also check some other period animation for banjos. Cartoons became popular about the same time as jazz and the tenor banjo, so I'm sure ther are other animated characters who played once in a while.



Another possibility you might consider is Broadway musicals of the early 20th century. Also, are you counting such things as banjo-ukes, banjo mandolins, and guitar banjos?






Is 1927's "Uncle Tom's Crabbin" the first to have sound? Looking at the earliest Felix short, 1919's "Feline Follies," he indeed plays the banjo. 



One of the things I've noticed with cartoons (even up through the 60s) is that it's nearly all strummed 4-string banjo, even when the character is a 'hillbilly' type. Like in the 1930 Mickey short "Pioneer Days," there is a hoedown scene where a fiddle/concertina/banjo trio play Liza Jane and Irish Washerwoman, but the banjo is a strummed 4-string both in appearance and sound. Lots of other examples like that.



I'm interested in anything banjo-related, but whatever it is, it should be the center of attention or presented in an iconic way. 

GrahamHawker - Posted - 11/25/2021:  13:22:10


This is an almost famous scene in the UK: Ricky Tomlinson playing Jim Royle playing a five string (missing the fifth) as a plectrum. This is the late nineties or a bit later.

dailymotion.com/video/x2zr86i

There's another example from this series - The Royle Family.

carlb - Posted - 11/25/2021:  13:52:13


It's 4- string. Jerry Van Dyke on the Dick Van Dyke show.

youtube.com/watch?v=W3J3MlduTno



and Jerry in some other shows

metv.com/lists/jerry-van-dyke-...est-roles

kwl - Posted - 11/25/2021:  14:02:22


Cat Ballou in 1965 was a western starring Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin. Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye played a pair of banjo playing minstrels.

Bob Smakula - Posted - 11/25/2021:  15:28:22


The end of the movie Harold & Maude has Harold playing (holding?) an English zither banjo.

Bob Smakula

Joel Hooks - Posted - 11/25/2021:  16:11:07


Starting just before 1850 and going to WW2 the banjo (in various forms) WAS pop culture.

mrphysics55 - Posted - 11/25/2021:  16:37:51


quote:

Originally posted by carlb

It's 4- string. Jerry Van Dyke on the Dick Van Dyke show.

youtube.com/watch?v=W3J3MlduTno



and Jerry in some other shows

metv.com/lists/jerry-van-dyke-...est-roles






"Burford"!

tdennis - Posted - 11/25/2021:  16:51:28


One of the vampire's minions, in the 1932 silent movie, "Vampyr", plays a banjo 1hr 6 minutes into the film for about 15 seconds, (watch a few more minutes for surprise.)



Vampyr 1932 Carl Theodor Dreyer Sub Eng and Thai HD - YouTube


Edited by - tdennis on 11/25/2021 17:00:38

thisoldman - Posted - 11/25/2021:  18:34:08


Luke Combs was in the halftime show this afternoon's FB game. You could see the banjo player several times (he switched off and on with guitar I believe). I hear the banjo once in awhile during the kids shows on Iowa Public TV. Back in the day Taylor Swift "played" a six string banjo (actually a banjitar I believe) during one of her songs "Mean".

paulbishop - Posted - 11/26/2021:  01:29:05


youtu.be/g-IqpuOpUDc This was a UK children's show in the 90s, I did the session and it remains one of the most difficult I've ever done.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/26/2021:  06:06:04


quote:

Originally posted by banjoboyd

quote:

Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Felix the cat played the banjo in quite a few cartoons, although most of them were pre-sound, so the banjo is only seen and not heard (some people would probably count that as a blessing).



When I have more time, I'll go through my cartoon DVDs and find some of the titles. I'll also check some other period animation for banjos. Cartoons became popular about the same time as jazz and the tenor banjo, so I'm sure ther are other animated characters who played once in a while.



Another possibility you might consider is Broadway musicals of the early 20th century. Also, are you counting such things as banjo-ukes, banjo mandolins, and guitar banjos?






Is 1927's "Uncle Tom's Crabbin" the first to have sound? Looking at the earliest Felix short, 1919's "Feline Follies," he indeed plays the banjo. 



One of the things I've noticed with cartoons (even up through the 60s) is that it's nearly all strummed 4-string banjo, even when the character is a 'hillbilly' type. Like in the 1930 Mickey short "Pioneer Days," there is a hoedown scene where a fiddle/concertina/banjo trio play Liza Jane and Irish Washerwoman, but the banjo is a strummed 4-string both in appearance and sound. Lots of other examples like that.



I'm interested in anything banjo-related, but whatever it is, it should be the center of attention or presented in an iconic way. 






1927 or a little later would be about right for the first sound "Felix."  The Fleischer Studios in New York were making sound cartoons, mostly just music, in the mid-twenties, but most studios weren't set up for sound, and "talkies" didn't really catch on until the feature film "The Jazz Singer," which was in 1927, nor in cartoons until Disney's "Steamboat Willie," which came after 1927. Before those dates, synchronizing the sound with the visual action (particularly speaking) was still extremely difficult.



Given the date(s) of the entrance of sound in films, it would be easy to figure out why most banjo depictions were of strummed banjos. Public interest in the five string was waning, being replaced by the rhythmic pulse of the tenor and plectrum alternatives, and such anomalies as the banjo-uke (also four strings) were popular among the college set. Hollywood has never been much for authenticity if it interfered with profit, so it would also be useful for a "Horse Opera"--a "western"--to use an anachronistic tenor banjo in a saloon scene.  At least audiences would know what the "durned thang" was. (As a side note, by then, there were probably more studio musicians available to strum away for the sound track than to pick away at a five string. "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" was still a number of years in the future.)



 

RB3 - Posted - 11/26/2021:  06:33:53


I'm curious about the goal and/or purpose of your analysis and your research. I wonder if you would be willing to share that with us?

Ira Gitlin - Posted - 11/26/2021:  07:06:53


The movie where the Marx Bothers pretended to play banjos was Duck Soup. That happened in the "Freedonia's gone to war" scene, fairly late in the movie. IIRC, all four instruments are five-strings.



There's a great "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" reference in a Simpsons episode. Homer and Abe are trying to outdrive an angry crowd, to the tune of "FMBD" (original 1949 recording), but can't shake their pursuers until Homer turns off the car radio, which is revealed to be the source of the music.



youtube.com/watch?v=tj8Wq9PiXgs

The Old Timer - Posted - 11/26/2021:  07:44:40


Thanks Ira!

Sheenjack - Posted - 11/26/2021:  10:30:47


Who can forget the quirky, unconventional, hilarious, classic TV advertisements of the 1980's created by the legendary Joe Sedelmaier, such as those produced for Alaska Airlines. They have stood the test of time and earned Joe induction into the advertising Hall Of Fame. Still funny after all these years. 



At the link is the hysterical 'bad news banjo'.smiley youtube.com/watch?v=Sdidvn5H1W8

tdennis - Posted - 11/26/2021:  13:50:53


...You're in search of, "...The shape of perception of the instrument in the general public ". You sound like you're in search of a snark, a mythology.
(Are you a folklorist, ethnomusicologist, or a marketing researcher ? )

Bill Rogers - Posted - 11/26/2021:  15:21:29


Spike Jones's TV show -- 1950s...several banjo players, of whom Freddy Morgan was the best known.

banjoboyd - Posted - 11/26/2021:  17:06:59


quote:

Originally posted by tdennis

...You're in search of, "...The shape of perception of the instrument in the general public ". You sound like you're in search of a snark, a mythology.

(Are you a folklorist, ethnomusicologist, or a marketing researcher ? )






In a certain sense, I am searching for a mythology. But not a snark. Mythologies are real and describable, snarks are not. I would be surprised if anyone here denies the existence of certain stereotypes and tropes associated with the banjo. Where do those stereotypes/tropes come from? How have they evolved over time? Pop culture depictions are certainly not the whole story, but I think they are significant in that they likely represent the average person's main source of information (whether based in reality or make-believe) about the instrument. (This is ethnomusicological research, by the way). 

tdennis - Posted - 11/26/2021:  17:17:36


Mythologies are real & describable ?  Congratulations, you're the first person in history to  declare this. 


Edited by - tdennis on 11/26/2021 17:23:33

banjoboyd - Posted - 11/26/2021:  17:44:26


quote:

Originally posted by tdennis

Mythologies are real & describable ?  Congratulations, you're the first person in history to  declare this. 






You misunderstand. Saying that a mythology exists doesn't mean that the things described by that mythology are real or factual. Greek mythology exists (hundreds of books have been written on the subject) as a collection of characters, stories, rituals, artistic depictions, etc. I can say to you "Zeus, the god of thunder," and you probably have some idea who I'm talking about. That doesn't mean there is a real Zeus sitting on Mount Olympus. 

mrbook - Posted - 11/29/2021:  19:04:44


Don't forget the 1960s musical film "Hootenanny Hoot" with several popular folk groups of the time. The movie lives up to its name.

Joel Hooks - Posted - 11/30/2021:  07:39:30


quote:

Originally posted by banjoboyd

quote:

Originally posted by tdennis

...You're in search of, "...The shape of perception of the instrument in the general public ". You sound like you're in search of a snark, a mythology.

(Are you a folklorist, ethnomusicologist, or a marketing researcher ? )






In a certain sense, I am searching for a mythology. But not a snark. Mythologies are real and describable, snarks are not. I would be surprised if anyone here denies the existence of certain stereotypes and tropes associated with the banjo. Where do those stereotypes/tropes come from? How have they evolved over time? Pop culture depictions are certainly not the whole story, but I think they are significant in that they likely represent the average person's main source of information (whether based in reality or make-believe) about the instrument. (This is ethnomusicological research, by the way). 






I'll send you down the path.



The banjo as we know it was created in the Americas by enslaved people from Africa based on African spiked lutes that used a membrane sounding board.



Because this was originally an important and sacred object to the enslaved people in America, it was a target as a novelty instrument to be used in the blackface acts by White people that were becoming popular (though had been around for centuries).  



The use in "minstrelsy" (a huge bit of pop culture) lead to changes in structure and design to make the banjo more user friendly for the traveling musician, eventually becoming what we think of today as a "banjo".  Race relations were a big deal-- big enough that an estimated 750,000 people died over it (well "state's rights" to own slaves).  No doubt this situation helped in the popularity of minstrelsy.



The mocking association in White popular culture about slave life or free Black Americans continued through the Jim Crow era.  During that time there was a social shift that included a large interest in "the good old days" (antebellum).  Part of this was the narrative of the "lost cause" and the monuments that came with that.



During Jim Crow there became an interest (or quest) in trying to find "pure white music".  The theory was that after the American Civil War, White working class people suddenly found themselves without work, so the fled into the "mountains" to live a life of isolation.  A different narrative was that immigrants from Europe, immediately upon arrival in North America, traveled directory to isolation in the mountains waiting to be discovered by folklorists.



Folklorists believed that they would be able to find culture and music that had escaped the influence of "ragtime" (Black music) or "jazz" (code for Jewish music).  They, more or less, produced what they were looking for.  Henry Ford promoted this along with "pioneer square dancing".



This captured the imagination of White Americans thirsty for the so called "good old days" and the commercial "old time" music became popular culture.  It seems to be about that time, the 1920s and later, that we get the new narrative of the 5 string banjo being associated with rural, southern isolated White mountain dwellers. 



So, in a very simplified way the banjo's stereotypes come from racism.



Early minstrelsy stereotypes were based in racism. 



The Jim Crow era fascination with "old time" "folk" or "country" music came from racism (and anti-Semitism).  This created the "hillbilly banjo player" stereotype (which in itself is racist).



You are asking about a subject that is very deep and complicated... and ugly.



The above has been simplified to an extreme.  But perhaps it will help get you started. 



I left out that starting about 1870 professional banjoists made a concerted effort to distance themselves from minstrelsy.  They wanted to just be banjoists without wearing burnt cork.  While this was successful and lead to what we call the "classic era", the association with minstrelsy stereotypes was still strong up to WW2.  This obsession with Black racist stereotypes was reflected in the titles of instrumental sheet music published until the 5 string banjo was no longer popular (and this included music composed and published in England). 



To be clear, the racist titles and subject was not exclusive to banjo music, it can be found in all popular music concurrently. 



 



 



 



 



 



 


Edited by - Joel Hooks on 11/30/2021 07:41:16

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