Some days ago I watched on youtube the trailer of a documentary called "The girls in the band" ( It is about the experiences of several female musicians in the major jazz period (30-60´s). Of course, they suffered a lot of discrimination despite their talent and skills.

Therefore I would like to know if you have an idea of similar situations in the golden era of banjo. Because the time I guess it is likely that happened the same just like other elemental women civil rights. Therefore, I would like to hear about anecdotes, stories or comments about this issue.  Is there an amazing female banjo player that I am losing

By the way, you will find a girl playing a banjo in the trailer :).

Views: 273

Comment by Jody Stecher on May 15, 2013 at 1:11

Some of the most popular banjo players of all time periods have been women. Cousin Emmy in St Louis got more fan mail than even Uncle Dave Macon and today (or a decade ago anyway) I think the world's highest profile banjo player is/was Emily Erwin of the Dixie Chicks.  In the 19th century Lotta Crabtree was pretty much identified with the rowdy image of the early gold rush era banjo music. A hundred years later Molly O Day also had a brief period of fame for raucous and emphatic banjo playing. In the classic banjo field Shirley Spaulding made some recordings in the early 1920s but in the UK there were some earlier recordings in the first years of the  20th century by  Bessie and Rose Skinner. 

Comment by German David Patarroyo on May 15, 2013 at 3:55

Thanks Jody for the update!. I have to learn hundreds of these stories about my beloved banjo.

Comment by Richard William Ineson on May 15, 2013 at 6:38

Can you be sure that they 'suffered discrimination because they were girls' or because they played the banjo?

Comment by Joel Hooks on May 15, 2013 at 11:33

Funny thing about Lotta, if one actually reads newspaper interviews and accounts, you will quickly find out that the banjo in her hands was an early novelty.

By the time she was established as an actress, the banjo was just a prop accompaniment in her plays.

In one interview, where she is giving the press agent a tour of her home, she is asked if she is a musician...

"I play all these things a little.  It is an advantage to introduce some music into a play, but I get my chef pleasure from hearing others."

Early newspaper accounts of her acts criticize her for forcing the banjo.  The articles make it clear that it is a bit salacious that a girl is playing banjo on stage.

Lotta was a stage actress and opportunist.  She used the banjo to make a name for herself.  I have found no evidence that she was a great banjoist.

It seems we cannot link PDFs in a blog post-- so I will add the newspaper article in a discussion and link here.

Comment by Joel Hooks on May 15, 2013 at 11:39
Comment by Joel Hooks on May 16, 2013 at 11:38

I reread what I wrote and it seem like my comments were directed at a specific person.  That was a poor choice of words on my part.

It was directed at the banjo history community.  While Crabtree did play banjo, and is pictured and advertised as such, her contributions to the banjo seem to have been inflated.

The project is worthy of study, but my first impressions are that female banjoists were few in the days prior to the very late 1870s.  There are many articles written in the mid 1880+ about young women taking up the banjo.

It seems that I have also read in etiquette books that young women receiving callers should keep a banjo on hand for young men to serenade them-- that keeps with the concept that women should just stay home and wait for a man to come and provide a life for her.

The "golden era of the banjo" was not the greatest time period for gender equality.

Even the female parts in the minstrel show (the reason the 5 string banjo in it's present form became popular) were mostly played by men.

Comment by carrie horgan on May 26, 2013 at 8:24

Interesting post David - I enjoyed watching the video.  I'm not aware of any female banjo players from the Golden Era (I hadn't heard of Lotta Crabtree) which is a shame.  Different genre of music and later era (1930s) but I like Lily May Ledford, banjo player, with The Coon Creek Girls (named after the place they lived in):

Casey Henry has also just written a book about women in bluegrass which she talks about here:

Comment by German David Patarroyo on May 26, 2013 at 13:40

Thanks Joel and Carrie for the data. Totally agree with the issue of the gender equality. It is shame because it was probable that some unknown female banjo players were pretty good but we could not know anything about them. Fortunately, we have now this website and a lot of enthusiasm with the classic banjo :)

Comment by thereallyniceman on May 26, 2013 at 14:31

"Hi Carrie, even in more recent times (1950's)  I know that your parents probably weren't born then!! We had Brenda Auden spreading the word. Here are a couple of previous articles from our website.

Young Brenda Auden

Brenda Auden Banjoist

She was quite a player!

Comment by carrie horgan on May 26, 2013 at 16:45

Hi Ian - I've just been listening to the links.  What a great player - she plays with lots of energy.  I wonder if she is still playing the banjo.  Snycopated Sunbeams is the perfect thing to be listening to on a (rare) sunny English day!!

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of Classic-Banjo to add comments!

Join Classic-Banjo

© 2021   Created by thereallyniceman.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service