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Winifred Johnson was my great aunt. She was born in Detroit but moved to New York when she was about 12 as her father William was an actor. She played banjo on stage in the USA before coming to…Continue
Started this discussion. Last reply by Rosie Anderson Apr 6, 2011.
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You are in luck as I found some info on your Great Aunt, Winifred Johnson, just by accident. As you know she was born in Detroit, Michigan. U.S.A. After first hearing the banjo played by some street musicians, she persuaded her father to buy her a banjo, on which she practised continuously. It was soon discovered that she had a natural ability on the instrument. Her father was a well known character actor, and had appeared on stage with many famous actors of the time, such as Booth, Lotta, Annie Pixley, and Jefferson. Her father's influence gave her many opportunities to appear on stage. She even led an orchestra of 60 musicians in the NY Metro Opera House with " the most touching of Negro Melodies ". She went to England in 1892 and with great successs was booked for a 3 years term at The Trocodero, The Canterbury and The Oxford music halls. In London she presented an act entitled " Scenes from the Mississippi " with all sorts of wonder effects such as Steamboat Races and the river by moonlight. She was married to the famous Canadian comedy actor, R. G. Knowles. The last news about her was from South Africa in 1905 where she appeared with her banjo in her husband's show at the Opera House. She played a six string Weaver banjo at the time. She had 3 ,12 inch six string, fretless banjos made from very special light Oak. Over the following 10 years Weaver updated and modified the banjos to 5 string with Ebony fingerboards with raised frets. I hope that this tiny insight to your Great Aunt has given you some pleasure. Ray
I have found a large 3 page article on R. G. Knowles. I think you will be very interested to read it. However, it is much too large to insert here, so if you send me you email address I will send it to you as an attachment. My address is...firstname.lastname@example.org Regards Ray
I seem to think that, deep in the archives is a loosely bound book of old banjo songs amongst which are one or two bearing Winifred's name - one I seem to recall is the 'Cotton Fields Medley'. When I have time to get down into the cellar, I will look these out and let you know what I find. I also think that there was an article about Winifed in the B. M. G. magazine, again, if I can find it, a copy shall be yours. Richard
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