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The Banjo and African American Musical Culture on the onlin Oxford African American Studies Center

Thursday, November 12, 2015


“The Banjo and African American Musical Culture” is   photo essay I published online in 2014 through the Oxford African American Studies Center, an online resource maintained by Oxford University Press and Harvard’s Dubois Center.


   It is 14 different web pages providing an overview of the origins of the banjo, including its African Antecedents, African Caribbean Birth, and African American beginnings as well as a survey of the development of African American banjo playign from colonial times to the 21st Century Black Banjo Gathering.

OUP regularly alternates this piece from the paid access part of this web site to the section available to the public.

Not just in regard to African American banjo, but in regard to issues like origins, minstrelsy, the explosion of the commercial banjo industry, and the rise of tenor and other jazz banjos,  this represents one of the most comprehensive pieces of Banjo history available,   Written with the support and criticism of some of the world's leading scholar of banjo playing and banjo roots, it represents the state of the art in scholarship about the banjo and African Americans.


visit the site and let me know what you think.


Contact me if you have trouble.



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Playing Since: 1999
Experience Level: Purty Good

writerrad has made 44 recent additions to Banjo Hangout 

[Teaching] [Jamming] [Socializing] [Helping]

Occupation: Banjoist, Banjo and African American music historian, researcher, retired English professor

Gender: Male
Age: 76

My Instruments:
My main workhorse banjo is my 2007 Kevin Enoch Tradesman with a Cherry Neck. I put a skin head on that banjo about a year or two ago and it is nice. Keep that head tight too. As you get older you appreciate light banjos like this.

. I have a one of a kind a tuabphone clone made by Marty Spencer of Florida banjos for my friend and banjo hero Larry Crismond several years ago. It is loud and very clear in the high end especially with decent though not deep bass. It is great for the Gus Cannon and similar single string work and for very distinct frailing focusing on picking single notes. But you can tell Marty also made furniture built to last in the time he made that banjo. Solid but heavy but louder than a howitzer!

I have replaced it with a 1925 Vega Tubaphone, a conversion I bought from John Bernunzio in 2016 with a pot probably designed for a tenor or guitar banjo and the Eastman Vega style neck used on Eastman's reproductions of the white lady

My favorite banjo is my 1894 Fairbanks Electric. Nothing to say except the workmanship and design of David Day is superior to anything he made the Electric, the Whyte Lady, the Tubaphone, and the Silver Bell and on the 7th day he rested!

I am still in love with, 2003 Gold Tone Whyte Lady that Dave Schenkman at Turtle Hill put a great calfskin head on. That banjo is perfect for the Dock Boggs type of stuff for depth. I was going to say that it sounds more like it that Dock's Mastertone which I have played, but on the records Dock tuned his mastertone down three or four steps to get that depth.

I also have a no name fretless made with old tenor pot and a maple neck.

I also have a Tyler Mountain small travel banjo that I bought for a trip to India and Nepal. It really works as an A or even B flat tuned banjo and sometimes I flat pick it like a mandolin,

The best banjo I ever played that I do not own is the Kyle Creed freetless with a metal top fingerboard that Paul Brown lent to Tommy Jarrell that Tommy used for years.

I love all banjos and anyone who wants to donate a banjo to me will be appreciated.

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
Well Mike Seeger. John Cohen and and Tom Paley fromthe original NLCR and Mike and Tom separately in recent years, Allen Hart and Paul Brown, Gus Cannon, Dink Roberts, Josh Thomas, Uncle Homer Thompson, and Rufus Kasey, Roscoe Holcomb and Dock Boggs. George R. Gibson and Virgil Anderson, Clarke Buehling, Bob Carlin, Fred Cockerham, Tommy Jarrell, Don Sineti, Riley Bagus, Earl Scruggs, Eddy Adcocks, Otis Taylor, Don Vappie, Greg Allen, Shlomo Pestcoe. Listen to more and more Bluegrass though don't really play it, but anyone with ears has to say Earl influenced them,

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Profile Info:
Visible to: Public
Created 10/23/2003
Last Visit 4/19/2024

Started playing guitar around 1961 as part of folk boom, interested in what I thought was traditional folk music, very early fan of New Lost City Ramblers, Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley, along with blues players too many to mention on guitar, I have played other people's banjos until about 1999 when I bought my first banjo a Deering good time, then I bought a bacon belmont (a gretsch really), both were stolen in 2003. <br><br>Since then I got a Gold Tone White Ladye which is a pretty good banjo in my estimation, although it is pretty heavy. . I set up the Black Banjo Then and Now Group which became a big success in the banjo and old time music world and have been published and pictured in BNL and the Old Time Herald since. <br><br> So I have become a banjo head. At the Gathering in April I was presented with an 1894 Fairbanks Electric. Wow what a banjo. It is small and light compared with even the Bellmont I once owned, but boy is it low, louder than the Gold Tone.<br><br> I have since acquired a Kevin Enoch Tradesman which I consider a great all around banjo and a truly great player for old time string band music and a custom made (for someone else) Tubaphone on stereoids banjo made by Florida Banjos banjo maker Marty Spencer. Marc Richason a local luthier and maker of Hayden Banjos who you can find on myf riends list is THE banjo luthier in the Miami-Ft Lauderdale area. Although he specializes in bluegrass banjos, he did wonderful things on my banjos for a modest price. In 2012 I moved to West Palm Beach. I wish I could say I moved to be closer to Bari Litschauer ( and the Amp shop, because she is the best guitar and banjo luthier I have ever experienced. I get anxious if she hasn't looked at or adjusted a guiar or banjo of mine . when I live 50 miles South in Miami, I wondered why some professional banjoists took their instruments all the way up here, but now I know, Any problems with a banjo, check out Bari she is here on hangout just search for her I play a number of different old time, ragtime, and blues banjo styles. I dont believe a banjoist should learn to imitate other banjo players, but should emulate what they are doing musically and functionally and be open to learn their own ways of doing things. I play old time down picking chiefly the kind of clawhammer that has little brushing, two finger both thumb lead and index lead, although I find that using the middle finger in thumb lead rather than the index works well, I play old time three and four finger styles kind of like Dock Boggs or Morgan Sexton, and I have learned, under the influence of Gus Cannon, to play three and four finger classic or guitar banjo. I have also been doing a little five string plectrum playing. In the past few years I have turned my aim on banjo scholarship and researching history. . I have given workshops on African American banjo playing, Blues and Banjo Playing, and banjo history at the Mars Hill Old Time Week, at the Black Banjo Reunion at Appalachian State College in Boone NC, at Banjo Camp North, at the Sweet Sunny South Old Time Music Festival in Hastings, England, at Izzy's Folklore Center in Stockholm Sweden, as well as performing on banjo and guitar in the US, Germany, England, and Sweden. I am listed as a consultant to the PBS program "Give Me the Banjo" in which I briefly appear and am working as an advisor to the film maker Marc Fields in the continuation of The Banjo Project <Go to> and see how you can support the continuing effort. I have presented about 8 times at the Banjo Collectors Gathering, now known as the Banjo Gathering, the central focus for banjo history. I have also written chapters on the banjo and African Americans for Hidden in the Mix (see my profile page) a Duke UP study of African Americans and country music, and have a chapter in U of Illinois Press's forthcoming Banjo Roots and Branches. My photo essay The Banjo and African American Musical Culture on Oxford University Press and Harvard's Black studies web site is the most comprehensive study of the banjo and Black people including the first fully published statement of what we hold are the banjo's origins in the Caribbean and its relationship both to its African antecedents and American future in formal scholarly publication. > I am always looking for people in the Palm Beach and North Broward area interested in playing old time music, traditional black string band music, and banjo music. I played guitar for 30 years before I started playing banjo and am a fairly good to excellent old time, folk, and blues guitarist. If you are in the West Palm Beach area or are traveling this way, please drop me a line about getting together and picking. I have extra guitars and banjos if you do not have yours. I play pretty regularly at the Old Time Bluegrass and Irish Jam 1pm each Sunday at the Jupiter Lighthouse and at the Bluegrass flavored jam each Wednesday at 1 if I am in town, I usually spend part of the Summer and Early Fall in Germany visiting my wife's family, so I also interested in hearing from pickers in Germany where I have done concerts and workshops. I am equally looking for people interested in serious study of the history of the banjo, particularly the interconnection of the banjo and African American music and history. Keep Picking!!!

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