Replying to some comments on a video of mine, I got to thinking. When does "minstrel style" become "classic style"?

Is there a clear border between the two? The obvious answer, in my unknowing mind, would be:

stroke style=minstrel banjo, guitar style=classic banjo

Would that make Briggs song accompaniment from 1855 classic or minstrel banjo? Or both?

I'm ranting a bit here and the thought is so new to myself that I haven't even formed clear questions in my mind.

What's your thoughts on the subject?

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for instance , i consider that this tune is  classic banjo , even if  composed & played by a French guy , more , on the plectrum .  The common point i see is that both the compositor , Julien Porret  and Joe Morley were , in a period of their lifes , entertainers for the troops

https://classic-banjo.ning.com/video/jollyboy

This is an interesting topic.  I think I read that guitar-style technique starts appearing in stroke-style banjo tutors (e.g. Frank B Converse 1865 Banjo With or Without a Master) and gained in popularity overtaking stroke-style by the end of the 19th century.  I think of classic-style banjo being a broad-church describing the technique ('guitar-style' on fretted banjos) to distinguish it from what went before ('stroke-style'on fretless banjos).  I suspect the term 'Classic banjo' or 'classic-style banjo' is retrospective and is used to distinguish it from what came afterwards (I may be wrong, does anyone know when the term was being used?).  So, when it used in retrospect it refers to both the era of the music (which is HUGE taking in 19th century jigs to complex ragtime composition in the early 20th century) and the technique (generally meant to mean fingerstyle without picks on nylon/gut strings but does include a sub-section of zither banjo etc etc.  This is where we can nit-pick about what is 'proper' but they probably didn't care at the time. It was just Banjo).  Phew!

p.s just to add, I don't think anyone here is 'nit-picking'.  In fact, the replies support a 'broad-church' way of thinking.

Something I like about this era of banjo is that huge popularity of the instrument meant that there was a surge of creativity - both in compositions written for the banjo and also in instrument building, patents flying here there and everywhere.  It really was a broad-church as the banjo was in flux, wouldn't you say?  I was just looking at my tutors to see if the term 'classic' banjo is used - actually, I have one which is undated but looks pretty old: 'Cameron's Banjo Tutor or How to Play the Banjo Without a Teacher for banjos with 5, 6 and 7 strings'  (see what I mean?) by W E Ballantine who refers to himself as 'England's Premier Classical Banjoist' so the term is in use - or at least, the term 'classical'. 

Good points, Carrie.

To my way of thinking, "Classic Banjo" would be an umbrella, with the largest covering of the umbrella meaning 3 finger (maybe to include 4 or whatever for certain arrangements) five string banjo played with bare fingers or nails (no picks) on gut/nylon type strings in a style based on music composed and played in that setting from 1880-1940 or so.

Under that umbrella would include other techniques of playing played on other types of banjos such as plectrum, 6, 7 string, and zither banjos, etc....in a related musical style.

I think this period is similar with mandolin and guitar/harp guitar, etc....and is generally called the "BMG" movement for this reason...meaning for the popularity of playing these instruments in this style of music during this time, not named for the magazine....which I think was named for this genre.

I abhor policitcal correctness.  It is an evil modern movement that mimics manners and politeness and empathy while those are absent and in place of those things are veiled selfishness and not making anyone "uncomfortable" or impinging upon their "feelings" no matter how wrong or untruthful the foundations may be for their "feelings" as well as how inaccurate or misinformed the motivations for their feelings are..

No one talks much about the persecution of white immigrants in this country, which was extensive.  The world is hung up on civil rights issues that are based on things that happened more than 2-3 generations ago....no one is alive now that perpetrated any of it.  Individuals should take repsonsibility for what is in their own shoes and be judged/rewarded/punished for only those actions.

The wrongs that have been done in the past are frequently painted with a very broad, politically correct brush in modern times that do not include many scenarios to the contrary in those times....for instance, the HUGE number of white abolitionists that opposed slavery in UK and US that go back into the 1600's are seldom mentioned let alone given credit.

Not many people are concerned about my "feelings" about my heritage and it's persecution of my ancestors....because I a am a white male.

That alone is unfair, yet I am not screaming in the streets claiming things are worse now than they were when the persecution occurred, which some previously oppressed groups of people currently claim about their situation, which is totally ridiculous, and many are still alive from those times to confess to this...yet it is the modern policitically correct opinion of most, even though it is just plain false.

A burnt cork is not a weapon, and is a legal item.  If you are uncomfortable or disagree with a minstrel show being performed where players "cork up"....the answer is simple....don't attend or support their art.

I'm not in favor of oppression, ethnic cleansing, or other forms of persecution.

But changing a historic art form because some people who are not interested in it nor attending any performances of it anyway are "uncomfortable" about it is to me, ridiculous.

Especially when the things that are "uncomfortable" influenced that art form and contributed to it being what it is.

If we cleanse things, yiddish music, gypsy music, blues, jazz, ragtime, and rock and roll ALL EVAPORATE AND NEVER EXISTED.

How can art like this be celebrated if it's creation is tied very very closely to the oppression that inspired it?

The logical thing, if the PC view is to be followed to it's logical end, is that these forms of music, just like the schwastica is, should all be banned, illegal, and considered forms of expression that celebrate oppression along with the performance accessories that went with the music, aka, burnt cork, and of course, the banjos themselves which are apparently authentic African instruments that have been evil-ly twisted into "acceptable" American usage.  Also, ban any guitar related music before 1880 or so.

Wow!  You when right to the extreme Chis.

I think I will bow out of this one. 

Good points, Carrie.

To my way of thinking, "Classic Banjo" would be an umbrella, with the largest covering of the umbrella meaning 3 finger (maybe to include 4 or whatever for certain arrangements) five string banjo played with bare fingers or nails (no picks) on gut/nylon type strings in a style based on music composed and played in that setting from 1880-1940 or so.

Under that umbrella would include other techniques of playing played on other types of banjos such as plectrum, 6, 7 string, and zither banjos, etc....in a related musical style.

I think this period is similar with mandolin and guitar/harp guitar, etc....and is generally called the "BMG" movement for this reason...meaning for the popularity of playing these instruments in this style of music during this time, not named for the magazine....which I think was named for this genre.

I abhor policitcal correctness.  It is an evil modern movement that mimics manners and politeness and empathy while those are absent and in place of those things are veiled selfishness and not making anyone "uncomfortable" or impinging upon their "feelings" no matter how wrong or untruthful the foundations may be for their "feelings" as well as how inaccurate or misinformed the motivations for their feelings are..

No one talks much about the persecution of white immigrants in this country, which was extensive.  The world is hung up on civil rights issues that are based on things that happened more than 2-3 generations ago....no one is alive now that perpetrated any of it.  Individuals should take repsonsibility for what is in their own shoes and be judged/rewarded/punished for only those actions.

The wrongs that have been done in the past are frequently painted with a very broad, politically correct brush in modern times that do not include many scenarios to the contrary in those times....for instance, the HUGE number of white abolitionists that opposed slavery in UK and US that go back into the 1600's are seldom mentioned let alone given credit.

Not many people are concerned about my "feelings" about my heritage and it's persecution of my ancestors....because I a am a white male.

That alone is unfair, yet I am not screaming in the streets claiming things are worse now than they were when the persecution occurred, which some previously oppressed groups of people currently claim about their situation, which is totally ridiculous, and many are still alive from those times to confess to this...yet it is the modern policitically correct opinion of most, even though it is just plain false.

A burnt cork is not a weapon, and is a legal item.  If you are uncomfortable or disagree with a minstrel show being performed where players "cork up"....the answer is simple....don't attend or support their art.

I'm not in favor of oppression, ethnic cleansing, or other forms of persecution.

But changing a historic art form because some people who are not interested in it nor attending any performances of it anyway are "uncomfortable" about it is to me, ridiculous.

Especially when the things that are "uncomfortable" influenced that art form and contributed to it being what it is.

If we cleanse things, yiddish music, gypsy music, blues, jazz, ragtime, and rock and roll ALL EVAPORATE AND NEVER EXISTED.

How can art like this be celebrated if it's creation is tied very very closely to the oppression that inspired it?

The logical thing, if the PC view is to be followed to it's logical end, is that these forms of music, just like the schwastica is, should all be banned, illegal, and considered forms of expression that celebrate oppression along with the performance accessories that went with the music, aka, burnt cork, and of course, the banjos themselves which are apparently authentic African instruments that have been evil-ly twisted into "acceptable" American usage.  Also, ban any guitar related music before 1880 or so.

When I first heard about and then actually heard this kind of banjo music in in the late 1950s and early 60s on the east coast of the USA the term used by the players themselves was "classical".  I first heard the term "classic banjo" in 1990. In both cases I heard the style name from members of the American Banjo Fraternity. So it seems likely that in the ABF milieu that "classic" replaced "classical" somewhere in the intervening years.  What about in the BMG?

 I agree that classic is a better descriptor than classical. "Classic" is all-inclusive..  "Classical" will not accept ragtime etc.   "Classic" is possibly not the best word for the genre as it implies that other ways of playing are flash-in-the-pan Johnny-come-lately wannabe fad styles that will soon burn out and vanish. Looked at dispassionately "classic banjo" seems absurdly self-congratulatory, especially when the numbers of its players are so few. But I think the term will continue to work well enough until something better comes along.  I am very glad that there are now some younger players, and that they play well, because  right now at the end of the second decade of the 21st century the average classic banjo player's age is "dead".

Continuing on from parlor banjo and parking lot banjo, how about "Nursing Home Banjo?"

carrie horgan said:

p.s just to add, I don't think anyone here is 'nit-picking'.  In fact, the replies support a 'broad-church' way of thinking.

Something I like about this era of banjo is that huge popularity of the instrument meant that there was a surge of creativity - both in compositions written for the banjo and also in instrument building, patents flying here there and everywhere.  It really was a broad-church as the banjo was in flux, wouldn't you say?  I was just looking at my tutors to see if the term 'classic' banjo is used - actually, I have one which is undated but looks pretty old: 'Cameron's Banjo Tutor or How to Play the Banjo Without a Teacher for banjos with 5, 6 and 7 strings'  (see what I mean?) by W E Ballantine who refers to himself as 'England's Premier Classical Banjoist' so the term is in use - or at least, the term 'classical'. 

So, we talk about extreme circumstances that involve the creation of this music we love, and one of the most knowledgable, well studied, and well spoken officers of our music bows out of this theoretical historically relevant discussion?

Come on, Joel.

I missed my 15 minute edit window, and I signed back on to add it.....

In addition to the white abolitionists that go back to the 1600's and continued in this country after reconstruction, there is one other fact I find extremely interesting that is hardly ever mentioned in any of these discussions as well, and I learned it from a famous black research person.

The original slave traders did not anchor off shore of West Africa, deboard, and knock Native Africans on the head and load them onto their slave ships.

THEY BOUGHT THEM FROM NATIVE AFRICAN TRIBAL CHIEFS WHO WERE THE ORIGINAL OPPRESSORS OF THEIR OWN PEOPLE ON THE HOME SOIL.

Somehow, and I'm thankful, the culture of the banjo made it over as well.

Where does this leave the discussion?

I don't know, sounds like it's over at least here. 

Shame that PC strikes here as well.

I'm apparently more "presentist" than an officer of the ABF in a discussion of the history and definition of "Classic Banjo".

It looks to me that the discussion has been ongoing, at its own pace. Joel and anyone else will respond or not respond according to their own rhythm and any free time. It's Thanksgiving week. Family things dominate right now. To continue: the participation of black Africans in the slave trade is a long established and well established fact. It is not news. I also think it is not relevant to the severity of the Black experience in the USA during slavery and afterwards.  Blackface is a symbol of the dominance of one group over another in a culture that prides itself on Equality.   It's not just burnt cork. It's a reminder of the entire ugly story in America. It's not about the original situation in Africa.

Yes, coming to terms with the historical situation in Africa might be  helpful and probably  necessary to solving the current non-banjo racial situation in the USA . Slavery was by no means confined to West Africa. In East Africa enormous numbers of human beings were sold to slave holders in the Middle East. The middlemen were Black Africans from tribes other than the tribes of the slaves.  I never heard of selling their own. But that is similar to what happened with the tribal chieftains of  Scotland who evicted those they were supposed to be protecting and replaced them with sheep. Black White Or Purple PolkaDots, bad behavior is bad behavior and the world is full of bad behavior.    How does that make black face OK for the 21s century?

Whoops I gotta go. I haven't proof-read what I've written . I hope it makes sense!

Chris Cioffi said:

So, we talk about extreme circumstances that involve the creation of this music we love, and one of the most knowledgable, well studied, and well spoken officers of our music bows out of this theoretical historically relevant discussion?

Come on, Joel.

I missed my 15 minute edit window, and I signed back on to add it.....

In addition to the white abolitionists that go back to the 1600's and continued in this country after reconstruction, there is one other fact I find extremely interesting that is hardly ever mentioned in any of these discussions as well, and I learned it from a famous black research person.

The original slave traders did not anchor off shore of West Africa, deboard, and knock Native Africans on the head and load them onto their slave ships.

THEY BOUGHT THEM FROM NATIVE AFRICAN TRIBAL CHIEFS WHO WERE THE ORIGINAL OPPRESSORS ON THE HOME SOIL.

Somehow, and I'm thankful, the culture of the banjo made it over as well.

Where does this leave the discussion?

I don't know, sounds like it's over at least here. 

Shame.

It makes perfect sense, Jody, and I agree.

The way the internet has affected communications has undoubtedly had an affect on the conversation and how I've been received.

I absolutely understand the significance of burnt cork.

I understand people will post at their own time...but Joel bowed out by his own words, while and because of calling me extreme.

I did not advocate the logic of what I typed, I am voicing perspectives I struggle with, and covet more knowledgable people's perspectives on for my own thought development, and Joel is chief among them.

So I am not only disappointed he bowed out, I'm a bit disappointed in him for it....this seems right down Joel's street for thought and discussion.

The banjo itself, in it's entirety, apart from burnt cork, has suffered unfairly in a negative way at the hand of African Americans for most of it's North American presence.

Much of this has been unfair since it's not based on facts.

If, and I did not bring it up, and hardly have time to post the last couple of years, we can't discuss this as it relates to the banjo in America, especially as it relates to the music of this forum, and the principle officers of the largest or only American or global classic banjo group will not participate in the discussion for some reason that doesn't make sense, what's the point of having any discussion, or this forum, or the ABF?

Somehow Ning did not show me your response to Carrie, and did not show me Joel's bowing out message to you. Now I have found them within this thread. I will make an attempt to respond in some detail  to your response to Carrie when I have time.   For now, I will say that as far as I can tell (in the same way that I noticed the change from the term Classical to Classic,.... like Yogi Berra said , "you can observe a lot by watching")... the idea of Political Correctness seems to have been originally a sarcastic caustic comment from the right wing. This was sometime in the 1980s I think.  It was meant in a disparaging way but it also invented the thing it disparaged.  What the political right originally characterized as "Politically Correct" had its foundation in basic human decency, not in political ideology. To my amazement the very fantasy conceived of by the right as a distorted caricature of left wing sentiments has been adapted by a new generation and taken to extremes never imagined by the original sarcastic righties.  Life is peculiar that way.  

The first time I experienced being censored on PC grounds was around 2006 or so.  I had been hired to write liner notes to a box set issued by Smithsonian Folkways.  I described the sound of Ralph Stanley's banjo in G tuning with the capo at Fret 10 for the song Feast Here Tonight (Rabbit In A Log). I said the capo at such a high fret gave the banjo sound  " a Munchkin quality".    I was told that I wouldn't be allowed to say that because some group or other might be offended.  I was incredulous. What group? Munchkins don't exist. My contact at the Smithsonian was kind but firm. The censorship has been dictated by the chairman of some committee or something like that and nothing could be done to change it.

So that's absurd PC.   But the foundation of what the political right originally characterized as "Politically Correct" had its foundation in basic human decency, not in political ideology. 

That's all I have time for now.



Chris Cioffi said:

It makes perfect sense, Jody, and I agree.

The way the internet has affected communications has undoubtedly had an affect on the conversation and how I've been received.

I absolutely understand the significance of burnt cork.

I understand people will post at their own time...but Joel bowed out by his own words, while and because of calling me extreme.

I did not advocate the logic of what I typed, I am voicing perspectives I struggle with, and covet more knowledgable people's perspectives on for my own thought development, and Joel is chief among them.

So I am not only disappointed he bowed out, I'm a bit disappointed in him for it....this seems right down Joel's street for thought and discussion.

The banjo itself, in it's entirety, apart from burnt cork, has suffered unfairly in a negative way at the hand of African Americans for most of it's North American presence.

Much of this has been unfair since it's not based on facts.

If, and I did not bring it up, and hardly have time to post the last couple of years, we can't discuss this as it relates to the banjo in America, especially as it relates to the music of this forum, and the principle officers of the largest or only American or global classic banjo group will not participate in the discussion for some reason that doesn't make sense, what's the point of having any discussion, or this forum, or the ABF?

Hi Chirs,

To explain a little more, I won't be bullied into an argument. 

It is not about "political correctness"-- which I could care less about.  I also never once mentioned "banning" anything.

I view many of the bits of information you introduced as logical fallacies to the topic.  When that happens I realize that nothing will be resolved and that I would be better off not being involved.

People are free to cork up if they want too-- and I am free to call them insensitive jerks if they do.  So the freedom of speech end of the debate is now solved and we want the same things.-- all agreed, now we can move past that.

I'll participate, but when you introduce negatives to prove a point it is tough for me to be involved.  Does someone murdering a murder make murder okay?


I will address the point you made about ACW reenactors "suiting up".  Most of them are overweight, overage, Santa Clauses, who are far from "authentic."  I've seen enough pick played guitars, mandolins, harmonicas, and good time banjos in these groups to know that there are few if any ACW string bands that are up to "authentic" standards to pull off a correct minstrel show.

I used to "reenact" the 1880s, but I was never interested in doing ACW.  I was uncomfortable with it. Being in Texas there was always a good turnout of Confederates. Many of the people I knew who did ACW would often repeat the "Lost Cause Myth" to me.  I am glad that they feel passionate about their "heritage" but I am ashamed that my ancestors were willing to take up arms to fight, kill and die for the Confederacy.  Those are my personal thoughts and are not meant to speak for anyone but myself.  

Back to the topic of Classic Banjo.  Jody, we hashed the name origins out some time ago. Yes they ABF did use "classical banjo".  At the time they were bombarded with all the newly popular folk styles. The closest thing was the then popular "classical guitar" that most people would have known about.

The "classical guitar" being a Spanish guitar strung with nylon strings and played fingerstyle, was the easiest descriptive comparison to what they were doing on the banjo.  

It was not the best, but it got the idea across.

I also agree that "classic" is not the best, but it is what it is.  And I have not come up with something better.  I do tell people that I play "like ragtime music" on the banjo and that "it is different than what Steve Martin plays."  That is usually enough. 



Chris Cioffi said:

So, we talk about extreme circumstances that involve the creation of this music we love, and one of the most knowledgable, well studied, and well spoken officers of our music bows out of this theoretical historically relevant discussion?

Come on, Joel.

I missed my 15 minute edit window, and I signed back on to add it.....

In addition to the white abolitionists that go back to the 1600's and continued in this country after reconstruction, there is one other fact I find extremely interesting that is hardly ever mentioned in any of these discussions as well, and I learned it from a famous black research person.

The original slave traders did not anchor off shore of West Africa, deboard, and knock Native Africans on the head and load them onto their slave ships.

THEY BOUGHT THEM FROM NATIVE AFRICAN TRIBAL CHIEFS WHO WERE THE ORIGINAL OPPRESSORS OF THEIR OWN PEOPLE ON THE HOME SOIL.

Somehow, and I'm thankful, the culture of the banjo made it over as well.

Where does this leave the discussion?

I don't know, sounds like it's over at least here. 

Shame that PC strikes here as well.

I'm apparently more "presentist" than an officer of the ABF in a discussion of the history and definition of "Classic Banjo".

First of all let me say how proud I am to participate in an internet forum where we can disagree without insulting each other.  I have put your words, Chris, in italics here,  and my response is in whatever vertical letters are called.

I did not advocate the logic of what I typed, I am voicing perspectives I struggle with, 

How can  anyone on this forum know that unless you tell us, as you now have?  In your earlier posts on Race & Banjo the questions appeared rhetorical. 

and covet more knowledgable people's perspectives on for my own thought development, and Joel is chief among them.

I’m glad to know that.  I didn’t know that until now.

No one talks much about the persecution of white immigrants in this country, which was extensive.  

Yes it was extensive but plenty of people remember and talk about it and write books about it that are read and remembered.

The world is hung up on civil rights issues that are based on things that happened more than 2-3 generations ago....no one is alive now that perpetrated any of it. 

  Let’s turn it around.  Vess Ossman died a long time ago. He made recordings of good banjo playing as long ago at the late 19th century. Does that mean we can’t still enjoy his music?  We can and do. Similarly the deeds committed by people long dead can and do continue to have an effect today.  I’m not saying mutual grievances between communities ought to go on forever.  Otherwise you get Northern Ireland as it was for so long. And you get the Balkans, the middle east, Rwanda, and all the rest.

But the fact remains that it is dangerous, perilous, to be black in much of America. That some of the danger comes from other blacks doesn’t change the fact of white on black racism, and that this has consequences.  

 Individuals should take repsonsibility for what is in their own shoes and be judged/rewarded/punished for only those actions.

Yes of course. And yet many black and brown people are daily punished for *being* black or brown, not for anything they did or didn’t personally do.

The wrongs that have been done in the past are frequently painted with a very broad, politically correct brush in modern times that do not include many scenarios to the contrary in those times....for instance, the HUGE number of white abolitionists that opposed slavery in UK and US that go back into the 1600's are seldom mentioned let alone given credit.

Not mentioned by whom?  Who are you talking about who is supposedly wielding this PC paint brush?   

Not many people are concerned about my "feelings" about my heritage 

I am.

and it's persecution of my ancestors....because I  am a white male.

You’ll get no argument from me about how hard it is to be poor and white. All the same, as a white male in America today you are, in many situations, in a comparatively privileged position.

I also agree about personal responsibility. But tell me Chris, how are brown immigrant children, forcibly separated from their parents, and locked in a cage, personally responsible for their plight?  If they were morally upright, they would have chosen more suitable parents?

A burnt cork is not a weapon, and is a legal item.  If you are uncomfortable or disagree with a minstrel show being performed where players "cork up"....the answer is simple....don't attend or support their art.

and if I don’t agree with a lynching following the castration of the victim, I should also not attend and leave it at that?   The corked up face is a symbol. It represents a recent history and a stance.  That stance says “look here boy, I have all the power, you have none, and don’t you ever forget it or you’ll end up like your uncle hanging from a rope here.”

I'm not in favor of oppression, ethnic cleansing, or other forms of persecution.

But changing a historic art form 

The minstrel show was an “art form”?  Hmm. I suppose it was. But who/where is anyone wanting to change this? 

because some people who are not interested in it nor attending any performances of it anyway are "uncomfortable" about it is to me, ridiculous.

Back up there a minute, Chris. Is this theoretical or real?  Are you saying that there are people who want to present a minstrel show? And they want to do it without the blackface?  Or with?  Or what?  If so I was not aware of it.  Why does anyone need a minstrel show these days? Why do they need to mock another race?

Especially when the things that are "uncomfortable" influenced that art form and contributed to it being what it is.

If we cleanse things, yiddish music, gypsy music, blues, jazz, ragtime, and rock and roll ALL EVAPORATE AND NEVER EXISTED.How can art like this be celebrated if it's creation is tied very very closely to the oppression that inspired it?

I think the answer varies on a case by case basis.

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