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Jul 11, 2020 - 7:02:47 AM
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Players Union Member



40574 posts since 3/7/2006

I just discovered this clip with Elisabeth Cotten playing banjo. I think her style is fascinating when playing playing left-handed on an ordinary banjo. She seems to use some kind of reversed or upside-down Seeger style.

Jul 11, 2020 - 8:07:20 AM
Players Union Member



20 posts since 7/8/2009

She worked for Pete Seeger's parents and he quit likely picked it up his style from her.
Someone on here can tell the story better.

Jul 11, 2020 - 8:22:06 AM
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96 posts since 1/23/2010

Elisabeth cottoen Taught herself how to play the banjo by sneeking her brothers banjo from under his bed when he was not around . Being left handed she played guitar & banjo upside down .I had the pleasure of shuttling her around When Mike Seager brought a group of musicians to perform in calgary. What a warm gentle soul she was

Jul 11, 2020 - 11:42:14 AM

630 posts since 6/6/2007

Pete took up the banjo in his teens, around 1936 or ‘37, and Elizabeth Cotten didn’t enter the Seeger household until the 1940’s. That’s not to say that Pete didn’t learn some stuff from her, but I think his style would have been more or less developed by the time the Seegers offered her employment in their house. Pete would have been out of the house, but of course could have learned some ‘moves’ on trips back home.

By the 1940s, Pete was performing first with the Almanac Singers and later in the decade as a member of the Weavers.  Cotten, of course, was not professionally performing until much later than that, so it’s not like Pete would have heard her perform out in public that early on.


Edited by - DH#52 on 07/11/2020 11:49:18

Jul 11, 2020 - 1:21:20 PM

2255 posts since 4/7/2010

Storyteller and fiddler Joe McHugh interviewed Mike Seeger on how the Seeger's met Elizabeth Cotten. It is a charming story and well worth going to his website and finding that story in the archive.

With the exception of a current 2 week vacation he is currently on, Joe has been emailing a story a day of varied interesting topics. Its been a great 3 to 10 minute diversion since the pandemic took hold of our daily lives.

Elizabeth Cotten's Martin D-18 guitar is displayed in the Onondaga Historical Association museum in Syracuse, NY. I don't think her banjo is there. She moved to central New York to be close to her children.

Bob Smakula

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