This excerpt is from Frank Converse's "Banjo Reminiscences" series published in "The Cadenza" in the late 1890's-early 1900's. His comments on Horace Weston and others takes on the patronizing tone and language of the era, and for that I apologise--I just want to pass on some interesting period observations on a great classic-style banjoist.
...Of all the colored players who have been much in evidence, it is generally conceded that the name of Horace Weston bears undisputed pre-eminence.
Unquestionably, Weston was a musical genius, as attested by his ability to play on a variety of instruments, to some extent. His biographer has said that he first essayed on the accordian, which he mastered when but seven years of age; at age ten he could play the violin, and then followed the violincello, double bass, slide trombone and guitar. He was also an expert dancer. But that he was an artist--opinions differ.
Genius alone does not constitute the artist. That's the foundation. But something more is essential--a mental something that observes much, thinks much to--so to speak--complete the superstructure.
That Weston was a remarkable and highly sensational executant in his way, will not be disputed, or that he could produce many novel and startling effects; but they were distinctly his own--they were "Weston" and ceased with him.
Although familiar with many instruments, he excelled with the banjo, and it is as a banjoist that the world knew him; for he had traveled extensively here and abroad--a sensation in London, Berlin, Breslau, Vienna, Hamburg, through France; and in this country with various companies, at watering-places, on steamboats, in saloons, beer gardens, etc., from about the age of 30 nearly up to the time of his death in 1890.
When playing, he preferred to be seated in an arm chair, with the rim of his banjo resting upon one of the arms, which gave a solid support for the instrument, and so increased its tone volume.
His favorite banjo was of full size, with a shallow rim. He preferred light strings. His bridge, very narrow and low--much narrower than the ordinary violin bridge--he place quite near to the tail-piece to in order to obtain a nasal quality of tone, which he fancied. The narrow bridge also enabled him to to execute a very novel, if not very musical, effect which he produced by rubbing the tip of his extended thumb rapidly to and fro across the strings, causing a buzzing sound which he would introduce ad libitum for various purposes.
It can be truthfully said of Weston that, as an example of certain possibilities--musical or otherwise--of which the instrument seems susceptible--he was unrivaled.
Sam Pride, a colored player who I have mentioned, was a neat and quite artistic player with the thimble, and introduced some fine effects. He could execute a trill with such rapidity that, when upon strings stopped in unison, it approximated a sustained tone.
A perfect trill in the guitar style of fingering seems quite impracticable. It is certainly too fine an effect to be omitted by the finished player, and can easily be acquired by observing, for the time, Sam Pride's style of execution.
The Bohee brothers, James and George, colored, were noted "thimble" players of the Weston "school," though not so robust and demonstrative in their execution, in fact aspiring to the refined. Gentlemanly and unassuming in demeanor, they were doubly popular with the public. They frequently traveled in company with Weston,, and were prominent factors of the combination. They went to London, England, several years ago where, meeting with public favor as players and teachers, they remained.
Blackman (or Blankman), an old-time colored player, of Troy, N.Y., is credited with having applied the tremolo movement to the banjo over thirty years ago.
That was before the advent in this country of the mandolin.
Query: Had Blackman heard the mandolin and so conceived the idea of substituting the forefinger for the plectrum? For thats it action--the addition being the accompaniment with the thumb...
(from Banjo Reminiscences, by Frank B. Converse, Part IV, Sept. 1901.)