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Hidden in the Mix with my “Why African Americans Put the Banjo Down” in it is Out

Posted by writerrad on Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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Hidden in the Mix is finally out for purchase from Duke University Press as of June 10, 2013.   It is an anthology on African Americans and “Country” music by a variety of contributors mostly music historians or researches into African American or “Country” music.  The contributors include Michael Awkward, Erika Brady, Barbara Ching, Adam Gussow, Patrick Huber, Charles Hughes, Jeffrey A. Keith, Kip Lornell, Diane Pecknold, David Sanjek, Jerry Wever, and me, Tony Thomas.
      My (Tony Thomas) chapter, “Why African Americans Put the Banjo Down” is the first scholarly work on African Americans and the banjo to be published, and is the first in a series of scholarly publications on the banjo we will see over the next few years.  It seeks to go beyond its purported subject to have as much of current analysis of African American and the banjo as we could get into it.  It benefits from the great support I had in this effort not only from banjo scholars and enthusiasts, but from blues scholars and music historians like David Evans, Jeff Todd Titon, and Joseph Byrd.

     The book is available now from Duke UP here:
But it is also available cheaper at Amazon here:

  Several other articles are also  relevant for banjo and old time fans even if they don’t directly address the banjo.  Patrick Huber's article on African American musicians on old time records marketed as white music in the 1920s and 1930s is crucially important.   Erika Brady's essay on the legend and reality of Arnold Schultz and Jeffrey Keith's essay on KY fiddler Bill Livers are also very interesting.  

     Folks here be inspired by Kip Lornell's "Old- Time Country Music in North Carolina and Virginia.” Kip narrates his own story from being a high school blues and folk fan to what led him to find African American banjo and fiddle artists like the Thompson family, Dink Roberts, Rufus Kasey, Leonard Bowles, and Lewis Hairston whom we would know, but also other musicians we may not know of including Black country accordionists and k dulcimer makers and players.
    Jeffrey Wever presents an article "Dancing the Habanera Beats You’re My Soul Song (in Country Music) Country Two- Step in Country Music St. Lucia and Its Diaspora"  

    This is the kind of book that the banjo world needs to get into libraries and schools




14 comments on “Hidden in the Mix with my “Why African Americans Put the Banjo Down” in it is Out”

Marc Nerenberg Says:
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 @10:38:15 AM

I just ordered the book. I'm looking forward to reading it when it arrives. (I ordered it in soft cover, though, so I imagine I may have to wait a while for it to be released in that format. Oh well, as one of my old elementary school teachers used to say, "Patience is a virtue".)

writerrad Says:
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 @10:56:19 AM

Marc's work and comments years ago are part of a long chain that has led to this. Patience is the only virtue that works!

stanger Says:
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 @2:02:53 PM

That's a must-have book for me!
Of all stringed instruments, the banjo is the only one that has always had persistent racial and sociological controversy surrounding it.
Why the African Americans gave it up has always been a question to me, as they have always been an important part of every fad the banjo has gone through in it's long history of rise and fall in popularity.

MrManners Says:
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 @8:37:50 PM

i could see it being a financial thing when they started making the higher end banjos around the 1880s,besides that the blacks were drifting to european instruments when they did enter the upscale instrument market,thank the lucky stars they were playing the piano in texas around the 1900s,.--- my 2 cents Tom

writerrad Says:
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 @5:43:37 AM


writerrad Says:
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 @6:07:51 AM

Mr. Manners obviously knows NOTHING about Black banjo playing or the history of the banjo in general, so it would be wise for him to invest in this book and other work on the history of the banjo like Bollman and Gura's America's Instrument, Karen Linn's, The Barbaric Twang, or Cece Conways African Banjo Echoes. In the 1880s the world's leading banjoist, whose endorsement was central to the "highest" end banjo company was African American Horace Weston who was popular on both sides of the Atlantic including in Buckingham palace. I could go on

Marc Nerenberg Says:
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 @6:40:45 AM

I was tempted to make a similar remark, when I read that comment last night - but you've done it better and with greater authority than I could have done.

MrManners Says:
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 @9:17:38 AM

don't know why you are offended folks you must have read me wrong,marc you of all folks should know i am about all things banjo.Don't know how this proves i know nothing,If you look at the newspaper clippings on my page you will see i have done some homework.I do not know of the info you are speaking of Tony,i am just seeing that the early pre civil war black banjo players were at a financial disadvantage at that time.
They did gravitate to the fiddle,piano and guitar,when opportunity presented itself,i was doing research on boogie woogie last month,seems it was invented in east texas by african -american piano players along the railroad lines,also called fast blues,it is pretty much the daddy of rock and roll,glad pine top and cow cow weren't playing the banjo all the time,You can see my know wasted stab at cow cow's atlanta rag on my video page.
Just because i don't know every thing does not prove i know nothing,sorry you got all offended ,but last month i was laid up with an operation,got over into the library of congress website and viewed some african explorer books with intent of seeing the musical ways of the african continent at the time,oh the joys of the internet,enough blabbing for now,good luck with your book ---Tom

MrManners Says:
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 @9:35:12 AM

would love to hear you play tony-Tom

MrManners Says:
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 @10:46:33 AM

i was trying to find the earliest 3 chord blues with flatted 3rds and 7ths,and some playing around with the 5-6 -flatted 7 notes,best i could do was 1910ish tin pan alley,anyone got info--Tom

writerrad Says:
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 @5:25:53 PM

there are two different things: the socalled blues scale, which is a basic African originated, probably modified by New World life, musical scale which pervades Black music and seems to have been around since people started writing it down. The second is the genre of music that is now called the blues. It probably did not come into existence until around the turn of the century, and certainly not under that name, although you can see glimpses of it in music published in the 19th century. It seems to have arise around the turn of the century and seemed to be influential in published tin pan alley music by 1900-1905 and a craze of sorts in published music from around 1908-13 the first time.

Some day I will upload a few MP3s.

This stuff with the ebony Hillbilies is on youtube. Not my best work but it is what it is Cotton Eyed Joe Leather Britches Great Getting Up Rock along John Sugar in the Gourd

plunknplinkntwang Says:
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 @4:12:16 AM

Thanks for posting the links. Another clip of you playing & singing solo Reuben's train

Gordy Ohliger Says:
Saturday, June 29, 2013 @8:21:04 AM

Before I fell into old-timey banjo style...I was struck by that way-cool-sound of Taj Mahal 's playing. I had just never heard such a thing. Of course now I know what he was doing..but at age 25 I was floored! It was all new to me! Thanks guy! (I went on to open a show for him.)
Carolina Chocolate Drops anyone? Please, they have not dropped the banjo.

writerrad Says:
Saturday, June 29, 2013 @9:08:24 AM

On the Reuben's train thing, I was on a local RADIO show publicizing Marc Field's PBS movie "Give Me the Banjo." I had been in Europe for 5 months before and didnt know that the host video filmed the music and posted it on Youtube. On top of that, I hadnt change banjo strings for ages since I was traveling. I play the tune much better and ought to post it.

There are lots of Black banjoists both old time and other kinds,. Taj Mahal went to vet school at a small college in Western Mass that is now part of the University of Massachusetts and people I know from New England remember him being around the folk and nascent old time schene around UMass and Amherst and various claimants to teaching him old time banjo include the infamous and late George Dennis Clifford. He's a great banjoist

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