I recently picked up a second hand, 1962,  copy of this book by Pete Seeger,  and this reference to nylon strings and Fred Van Eps caught my eye. 

I thought other members might be interested to see it.  Is the American Banjo Fraternity still in existence?  Unfortunately, since this dates from 1962 there is no website address!

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OK, I'll take the bait. It’s been kinda quiet around here. I’ll make a bit of noise. 

Joel, I’m assuming that by “banjo as we know it” you mean manufactured banjos, both well-made and “tubs”, banjos which have a high mineral content, as opposed to home made early instruments made from animals and vegetables, and I’m assuming you have no doubts that these earlier banjos played folk music. Have I got that right?

SS Stewart, and also the New England makers, and the producers of "tubs" too — as we all know, or should know —manufactured their instruments for playing what is now called Classic banjo music. They did not have clawhammer and southern vernacular music in mind. All the same, this other banjo music existed and thousands of rural southerners purchased these instruments and played on them in their own way.

Has there been a written or spoken effort to discredit the first part of the above paragraph and to promote the second part? If so, I haven’t heard about it.  Maybe those who are doing it are simply ignorant or chauvinistic about their preferred kind of music (?)

On the other hand:

The existence of the literary version of the English language does not cancel out the existence of vernacular speech. The same is true of music. The banjo as we know it (the manufactured kind) has been used as a folk (by any definition) instrument more than any other way.  Folk banjo is a parallel stream to classic banjo, arising from a common African source.   The thousands of rural southerners who recall their grandparents and great-grandparents playing traditional folk music on store - bought banjos are not the victims of a mass hallucination. This really happened and this music still exists. 

If Parking Lot Bluegrass Banjo, yet another branch of the banjo river, is not folk culture, what is it? It arose without sheet music, without conservatories, without teachers. 

I think it is safe to say that Cripple Creek has been played more times on the five-string banjo than Sunflower Dance. Since that is true, why is it not true that the non-homemade banjo is  a folk instrument? Surely the five-string banjo is many things and it will play other as yet undreamed-of music in the future.




Joel Hooks said:

There has been a lot of effort by various generations to convince the public that the banjo (as we know it) is (was) a folk instrument.

The 5 sting banjo,when first introduced to the UK at the end if the 19th century, was not considered a folk instrument as it was primarily classic style that was played. It was only during the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s that other styles of banjo playing were heard and it acquired its folk music tag.

The 5-string banjo was first introduced to the UK much earlier, during the minstrel era. At that time, and earlier, and thereafter, the majority of banjo players in the United States played vernacular traditional music, also known as folk music.

Steve Harrison said:

The 5 sting banjo,when first introduced to the UK at the end if the 19th century, was not considered a folk instrument as it was primarily classic style that was played. It was only during the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s that other styles of banjo playing were heard and it acquired its folk music tag.

How do we know that this "folk" music existed? There's no documentation. As far as I can tell, folk-style banjo was invented by Pete Seeger.

 "Old Time Music" is a folk term for folk music. The "documentation" is the memories, the recordings, the photographs, the films, the present day players. The Library of Congress has so many thousands of recordings of American traditional folk music. No documentation? Do you think these recordings were faked? It would take an amazing genius to create such a rich music and to invent the past that these recordings document. And what would be the purpose of this fraud?  Politics? Governments are clueless about music. Dictatorships of the left and right always display a heavy hand in their attempts to re-write musical history. Witness Turkey, Communist Eastern Europe,  Central Asia, etc. Do you think that a repertoire of so many thousands of well crafted and deeply nuanced songs and tunes were all created to deceive the public?   It would be impossible to do.

As for Pete Seeger, are you proposing that the photos and references to traditional players in his book are fakes? If you want to hear the root of Pete Seeger's song accompaniment style, listen to the recordings of Polk Miller. To hear the root of his up-picking lead technique just listen to the recordings of Samantha Bumgarner and Lilly May Ledford. (Lilly May played a 1920s Whyte Laydie. I have seen and played this excellent banjo.)  To hear his downpicking/frailing model just listen to the recordings of Rufus Crisp. For his thumb lead two finger picking one obvious model is Pete Steele.  Except for Lilly May, these banjoists were born in the nineteenth century and learned to play in their youth from older musicians. Bumgarner was born in 1878, Crisp in 1880, Steele in 1891 and Miller was born in 1844!!!   Do you really think Pete Seeger made this all up?  Do you think *I*, an obvious classic banjo enthusiast, am part of a conspiracy to invent a musical past that includes non-written banjo music and an aural tradition?   Is the music of the folk revival of the 50s and 60s the same as the earlier traditional music of the rural south? Obviously not. Is the banjo playing the same? The players hoped to be the same but most never acquired enough finesse. The main banjoist models of the 50s and 60s folk revival were Hobart Smith, Molly O'Day,  Dave Macon,and Frank Proffit, mostly via those who learned directly from these people or from their recordings, and the others I mentioned, via Pete Seeger. Of course there were others.

I was born in 1946. In my teens I travelled each year to attend the Old Time Music Convention at Union Grove, North Carolina. There I encountered and listened to dozens of banjo players who were born in the late 19th century and early 20th century. All learned in their youth from older musicians. These banjo players were just a few of the thousands of banjo players that lived around those parts, most of whom played for personal enjoyment, not in public. These local players were male and female, white, black and Native American. I assure you, Marc, that I did not imagine this. And I did not imagine that the music they played was not the classic banjo repertoire, and my memory is sound that their techniques were different as well. I am not misremembering. I am one of hundreds of thousands, probably of *millions* who remember that this music was and is real.  

Trapdoor2 said:

How do we know that this "folk" music existed? There's no documentation. As far as I can tell, folk-style banjo was invented by Pete Seeger.

Man, I think I caught a fish!

Why the bait?

Trapdoor2 said:

Man, I think I caught a fish!

I apologize, Jody. I'm still at work and even though it is Friday, they insist on some work being done. I am crafting a "folk" reply but it has to be done "in between".

I threw out the bait simply on a whim, besides, you said you wanted to make noise! ;-)

Take your time. Playing banjo is a better way of making noise, but this will do.  Happy New Year.

Jody "making a bit of noise?".. Well done Jody!

Here is a bit of trouble stirring too... For the  "SO CALLED FOLK PLAYER" and  this time also for those who have trouble regarding the origins of the banjo.

Caribbean or Africa?????

I found this in an early copy of the BMG magazine:

What have I started? ;-)

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