from The Cadenza, May-June 1898.


S. S. Stewart, the well-known banjo manufacturer, died very suddenly at his home in Philadelphia on April 6th of apoplexy.  We are informed by Mr. Charles Morrell, the banjoist, who was in Philadelphia at the time, that Mr. Stewart left home that morning as usual, to go to his office, but not feeling well he was obliged to return, whereupon he expired in a few moments after reaching his house.  Mr. Morrell was to have called upon Mr. Stewart (whom he had never met) on April 5th but by a strange decree of fate they were destined not to meet in this life; for business reasons Mr. Morrell was obliged to postpone his visit until the morning of April 6th, and when he arrived at Mr. Stewart's place of business it was everlastingly too late, as the death notice of the proprietor was just being posted on the door.

S. S. Stewart's name and achievements are well known to banjo enthusiasts throughout the world.  He was one of the pioneers of modern banjo makers, the inventor of the banjeaurine and other forms of the banjo, and was the publisher of the first music journal in this country to be devoted to the banjo.  He was also one of the first to engage in the business of publishing music for the banjo.

He did great work in the interests of the banjo and always devoted the best efforts of which he was capable to the advancement of the instrument, in which his faith never wavered.  His death will be a severe loss to the profession and his numerous friends, in and out of the trade.  S. S. Stewart was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 8th, 1855 and was therefore a little more than 43 years of age at the time of his death.

Mr. Stewart's early studies on the banjo were pursued under the instruction of the veteran teachers Geo. C. Dobson and Joseph Rickett.  He began teaching in Philadelphia in 1878 and established his banjo manufacturing business soon afterwards.

The professional and the music public are thoroughly familiar with his subsequent successful career.

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Having not done much research into the life of SSS, I'm surprised to learn that he died at such a young age! Imagine what he could have achieved with another 20-odd years or so ...

I have to say, too, that I really like the phrase " ... it was everlastingly too late ... "

I might have to incorporate that into my daily life.

Thanks for posting, Carl.
"Apoplexy" was a catch-all term for sudden, unexplained death. Heart attacks, aneurysms, strokes, etc., were all covered by this term. We simply didn't have the medical knowledge to be more specific at the time.

43...I imagine he was a workaholic: high blood-pressure, poor nutrition, etc.

Anybody know his home address? I wonder if his homeplace is still there. He had a couple of sons...I wonder if there are any living relatives?
Found in 1880 US Census: Sam'l Stewart, age 26 (owner of Music Store), @ 3947 Aspen St., Phila, PA. Wife: Anna T., age 30, Son: Fred S (age 4mo). Oddly, little Freddy's birth month is given as January but the census is dated June...errors crept in, obviously. The Stewarts must have been reasonably well-to-do as they had a "servant" living in the house.

Google maps finds the Aspen St. address as a horribly run-down area...but the remaining homes look right for the 1880s.

I also found Frank Converse listed in the same 1880 census, living in NY, NY, with his wife "Nettie". Frank is listed as a "Banjo Teacher".
His residence at the time of his death was 1421 Filbert Street. His obituary has his cause of death as a stroke. I've often wondered if he has any living family and if they knew about him and is affect on late 19th century America.

Perhaps they have some stored away copies of his books or manuscripts. It would be "simple immense" to get some Stewart compositions written in his own hand.

BTW, full obituary is on the front page of the June-July 1898 issue.

Joel,  perhaps you might have a different impression of the man than I do!

LOL knowing Stewart's easy going, tolerant, layed back and relaxed, non-judgmental, non-money grubbing approach to life, no doubt his family mourned the lost of a warm and friendly person who was a pleasure to be around because he was so giving, tolerant, and generous.

I am sure he was just as kind, non judgmental, and humble in his family life as he was in business and the banjo world, ever eager to yield to better opinions offered by others, always a smile and acceptance for his kin as he had for competition and contrary opinions among banjoists.

I am sure tears were shed by other banjoists who missed Stewart's kindness and generosity particularly when they decided to use banjos from makers other than Stewart, something Stewart cared so little about because he loved the banjo's best interests not his own

I don't understand Tony?

You mean Stewart wasn't as kind, soft hearted, easy going and tolerant to you as he was to me.  LOL

???  I never met the guy.  So I can't say I know anything about his personalty or demeanor.

Facts are-- He was 24 when he started his music store (just a kid).  Just married around the same time, he soon had two sons and was a devoted father (at least Fred seemed to be very fond of him from his later version of the Journal).  He had a adopted daughter (I don't know the situation surrounding this).

He manufactured and sold quality products and provided good services for appropriate prices.

He was creative and talented.  He was a banjo enthusiast and music lover.

He was at the head of a popular culture movement who employed many workers and provided creative people with a musical outlet.  

His writings, products and publications provided many hours of happiness and entertainment (and still do if you include me).

His successes are a testament to his business practices and I will not hold making a living against anyone.

Often taken out of appropriate context and completely misinterpreted -- his publications were largely written tongue in cheek and filled with sarcasm-- Remember, these were kids having fun!  They were popular with self made money.  Most of what was written is no different than modern day hipster nonsense from start up companies.

Taken literally it could be interpreted as nasty.  Correctly understood it is kids having fun in a time when being fancy was in style.  It was cool to be smart and wear nice suits. 

Too much has been put into this "elevating the banjo" notion.  This has been an obsession to banjo historians-- it was just kids making noise.  No different then if twenty year old engineers today were writing about how much better their smart phones are compared to landlines and dial up.

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