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Banjo in American Folk Music


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This is a class project for an American Music class at Portland State University. We are discussing the history and music of the banjo in the United States.

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Banjo in American Folk Music

  1. 1. The Banjo in American Folk Music<br />
  2. 2. Resonator is circular with a parchment-like head stretched over it<br />Has five metal strings stretched over a long fretted fingerboard<br />Strings are played with fingers or plucked, often with metal plectra (picks)<br />Vibrating strings are what make the sound<br />The Modern Banjo<br />Video:<br />Bluegrass Roots of Folk Music<br />
  3. 3. Enslaved Africans in America fashioned gourd instruments with long necks & strings<br />Africans in America used drums, gourds, mouth harps and banjos to create music for dancing and storytelling<br />C. 1830-1910 “Blackface” minstrel performances popular in America<br />Early 20th century country music embraced string instruments including the banjo<br />In the 1940’s bluegrass musicians played the banjo with a virtuoso technique<br />Beginning in the 1940’s the banjo also becomes a popular instrument in Folk Music<br />The History of Banjo in America<br />Pictured above is a xalam, and pictured to the right is a nkoni.<br />
  4. 4. African American Influences<br />Use of the Banjo <br /><ul><li>Rhythmic sound
  5. 5. Two-finger picking
  6. 6. Thumb-lead playing</li></ul>Video: West African Traditional String Music<br />Patterns of the Banjo<br />1855- African American use of two-finger picking style is heard by white Anglo Americans<br />1865- two-finger picking style is adopted by white Anglo Americans<br />
  7. 7. Banjo Traditions<br />Declining use of the Banjo <br />Widespread across upland south<br />Continued patterns found in:<br />Early African<br />Colonial <br />Frontier <br />Minstrel <br />Influenced mountain string bands<br />Foundation upon which the blues developed<br />Black banjo declined after 1920 mostly because access to guitars was made easier—mail order guitar<br />However, African American use of the banjo continued to have considerable influence across the country<br />
  8. 8. “Blackface” Minstrel Performance<br /><ul><li> The one shameful chapter in the history of American musical is the minstrel show.
  9. 9. Minstrel shows in blackface were the first kind of musical theater that was 100% American-born.
  10. 10. Developed in the 1840s, peaked after the Civil War and remained popular into the early 1900s.</li></li></ul><li>Twanging the banjo, and the clatter of tambourine and bone castanets, white men smeared burnt cork on their faces to sing and waggle their legs in imitation of blacks dancing. <br /><ul><li>Between 1750 and 1843, over 5,000 theater and circus productions included blackface.
  11. 11. During the 1830s, a few white entertainers performing blackface arts included the banjo as part of their “Ethiopian Delineator’s” bag of tricks, and for the rest of the century, the banjo was a necessary prop for the blackface minstrel show.
  12. 12. Mandatory blacking of the white performer’s face accompanied the white use of black music.
  13. 13. Later nineteenth-century banjo fades so white musicians no longer had to feign “blackness” to play the banjo.
  14. 14. Blackened face with burnt cork, big shoes, and comic gags traditional of the theater banjo since its introduction.</li></li></ul><li>Joel <br />Walker<br />Sweeney<br /><ul><li>Sweeny was anearly blackface minstrel performer.
  15. 15. The earliest documented white banjo player.
  16. 16. He wasknown for popularizing the banjo and advancing it into the modern banjo.
  17. 17. It wasn’t until the 1830s that the banjo was played by anyone other than African Americans. Sweeney broke social norms and began popularizing the African American instrument within the middle class by performing publicly.
  18. 18. He started by showcasing his skills in central Virginia for the county court. Then he joined a circus and traveled all over Virginia and North Carolina. </li></ul>1810-1860<br />
  19. 19. The Birth of Popular Banjo<br /><ul><li>By 1839, Sweeny was performed in several blackface venues in New York.
  20. 20. Later in life Sweeny took on students, teaching them the traditional African method if playing. Including striking the strings with the back of their fingernails.
  21. 21. Aound1845 Sweeny created the group called, Old Joes Minstrels, which was a family band.
  22. 22. Sweeny reinvented it the Banjo. The advertisements for his shows boasted, “He plays with scientific touches of perfection.” and “Only those who have heard Sweeny know what music there is in a Banjo.”
  23. 23. Joel Sweeney died of edema (abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin or in one or more cavities of the body) commonly known as “dropsy” on October 29, 1860. He was fifty years old. </li></ul>A banjo featuring a gourd body strung with catgut. Walker would later reinvent this using a cheese box. <br />
  24. 24. History of Hootenanny<br />Hoot-en-an-ny. Noun. "An informal gathering with folk music and sometimes dancing."<br />"Hootenanny is to folk singing what a jam session is to jazz."<br /> -Joan Baez<br />While questionable in origin, folk pioneer Pete Seeger attributes the term to the Pacific Northwest stating that he brought the mink or back to New York City after touring to Seattle, "It was the first time we ever heard the term.“<br />The term rose in popularity during the folk revival of the 1960's, namely in West Village of New York City where Seeger and Woodie Guthrie would host parties where many young musicians would come and share their songs.<br />Promoted the introduction of fresh new folk material as opposed to the traditional folk songs of old.<br />
  25. 25. Often played "clawhammer" style which utilized the instrument in a rhythmic way without traditional finger picks, similar to an acoustic guitar, in order to better accompany vocals in solo artists.<br />After becoming commercialized in the late 1960's through the ABC program of same name, hootenannies began featuring group acts in which the banjo remained a prominent component both rhythmically and melodically.<br />Groups made popular through Hootenanny consisting of prominent banjo players include; Chad Mitchell Trio, New Christy Minstrels, and The Foggy Mountain Boys. <br />Use of Banjo in Hootenannies<br />
  26. 26. Folk Revival<br /><ul><li>“Folk art is an everyday art and consequently exists in the domestic arena, where it is appreciated by “ordinary” people as they satisfy their collective material and spiritual needs.” (Vlach 346) This description of folk art is also an apt description for folk music.
  27. 27. Toward the end of Guthrie’s life a folk song revival swept the United States. Starting in the late 1950s, folk musicians gathered to play folk “jam sessions” called “hootenannies.”
  28. 28. Artists like Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger popularized American folk music during the1930s and 1940s. Artists such as Joan Baez and, most famously, Bob Dylan, led the way using folk songs as political protest. </li></li></ul><li>Woody Guthrie<br />Pete Seeger<br /><ul><li> "Woody Guthrie, a tough, skinny, wind-blown, freckled, curly-headed Huck Finn. A little piece of leather. A dirt-road, hard-pavement, dank-box-car, cold-city, hot-desert gamin. Coast-to-coast poet and minstrel." (Terkel)
  29. 29. Guthrie sang songs of and for the common people; hobos and the working class. He was a political
  30. 30. Seeger grew up in a musical family, and he learned to play the guitar, banjo, and ukele by the time he was a teenager.
  31. 31. The banjo was Seeger's favorite instrument, and he often accompanied himself with it. He sang political songs talking of peace, unions and the working class, and the trials of the common man. His most famous songs are Turn, Turn, Turn and Where Have All The Flowers Gone.
  32. 32. He wrote a banjo instruction book called How to Play the Five-String Banjo. First published in 1948, it is still available on in its Third Edition.</li></ul>activist for the poor and under-served.<br /><ul><li> He the guitar, drums, mandolin, and banjo, and his most famous song is This Land is Your Land.</li></li></ul><li>Banjo essential for polka dances in barns or social halls (Candelaria, and Kingman p. 59)<br />Newer styles, Plectrum and Tenor are 4-stringed and have flat picks to play<br />Plectrum banjo for new innovations and techniques, such as more volume<br />Tenor banjo is tuned in fifths, like mandolin and violin<br />Banjo hybrids such as banjo-guitar, banjo-mandolin and banjo-ukele<br />Banjo In Folk Music Today<br />
  33. 33. <ul><li>West African Jola (tribe) akonting is an example of a folk lute used to instill bravery in hunters
  34. 34. Use o'teck, a down-picking technique to play</li></ul>Pictured above is an example of akonting<br />For Extra Listening:<br />To Hear Your Banjo Play: American Folk Music Documentary<br />Peet Seeger: What is Folk Music?<br />Appalachian Folk Music<br />Interactive Activity:<br />Please vote on your favorite video clip and post the results of the poll to the general forum.<br />
  35. 35. Influences <br />The Kingston Trio <br />The Dillards<br />Pete Seeger <br />Earl Scruggs <br />Theme to The Beverly Hillbillies and the song "Foggy Mountain Breakdown,“ can be heard to the below.<br /><br />Steve Martin Plays the Banjo…Well<br />
  36. 36. "Three-finger" picking, made famous by Earl Scruggs <br />"Clawhammer" , also known as "Flailing" — <br />Strings are pushed down by fingernails, rather than pulled up with picks<br />Known for its syncopated rhythms and distinct melodic phrasing <br />Steve Martin Plays the Banjo…Well <br />Grammy Wins<br />Steve’s Own Take on the Banjo<br />Grammy Wins<br />2002 <br />‘Best Country Instrumental Performance’<br />2010<br /> ‘Best Bluegrass Album’”<br />“Acquired taste”<br />“When you first hear it, it strikes many people as 'What's that?'”<br />“It captures something about our past."<br />“It’s a secret world” <br />
  37. 37. References<br />Slides 2-3, Tonya Heslet<br />Alves, William. Music of the Peoples of the World, Second Edition. Boston: SchirmerCengage Learning, 2010. <br />Candelaria, Lorenzo and Kingman, Daniel. American Music: A Panorama, Third Concise Edition. Belmont: Thomson Schirmer, 2007. <br />Forney, Kristine and Machlis Joseph. The Enjoyment of Music, Tenth Edition/Shorter. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007.<br />Odell, Jay Scott and Winans, Robert B. "Banjo." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 28 Apr. 2011<br />Slides 4-5, Renee Semore<br />Linn, Karen. That Half-barbaric Twang: the Banjo in American Popular Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois, 1991. Print<br />Slides 6-7, Susan Goodbaudy<br />None<br />Slides 8-9, Korey Kelso<br />"Black Roots." Virginia Bluegrass Music Concerts, Blue Ridge Parkway, Bluegrass Music History. Web. 03 May 2011.<br />"Deaths | Appomattox Genealogy." Appomattox Genealogy | Family History in and around Apomattox. Web. 03 May 2011.<br />"Dr. Horsehair - The Banjo, Our American Heritage - Banjo History." Dr. Horsehair Music Company. Web. 03 May 2011.<br />"Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records and Online Memorials." Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records. Web. 03 May 2011.<br />"Joel Sweeney."Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 03 May 2011.<br />Reese, Bill. "Thumbnail History of the Banjo." Trussel'sEclectiCity. Web. 03 May 2011.<br />Swain, Craig. "Popularizer of the Banjo Marker." The Historical Marker Database. 25 Apr. 2010. Web. 03 May 2011.<br />Sweeney, John M. "TALENTED SWEENEYS Joel Sweeney & The Musical Sweeneys of Appomattox."The Official Sweeney Clan Website. Web. 3 May 2011.<br />
  38. 38. Slides 10-11, Gabriel Mouer<br />"Joan Baez - Biography." The Internet Movie Database.<br />Edwards, Bryce. "The Best of Hootenanny." Pseudobook Productions .<br />Hendrickson, Stewart. "Hootenannies." PNW Folklore - Home Page.<br />Ruehl, Kim. "Hootenanny - Definition of Hootenanny." American Folk Music - All About American Folk Music and Americana. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2011.<br />Zepp, Donald. "FrailingvsClawhammer." ZEPP Country Music, Inc.<br />Slide 12-13, Amy Scurry<br /> How To Play The 5-String Banjo (Music Sales America) (9781597731645): Pete Seeger: Books." Web. 11 May 2011.<br />Lund, Jens and Denisoff, R. Serge. “The Folk Music Revival and the Counter Culture: Contributions and Contradictions.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 84, No. 334. (Oct. - Dec., 1971), pp. 394-405.<br />Pete Seeger: How Can I Keep From Singing? A Radio Documentary by David K. Dunaway. Web. 11 May 2011. <>.<br />Reuss, Richard A. “Woodie Guthrie and His Folk Tradition.” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 83, No. 329. (Jul.-Sep., 1970), pp. 273-303<br />Rosenstone, Robert. "The Times They Are A-Changin': The Music of Protest.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 382, Protest in the Sixties. (Mar., 1969), pp. 131-144.<br />Terkel, Studs. "Foreword." Ramblin' Man: the Life and times of Woody Guthrie. By Ed Cray. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Xvii. Print.<br />Vlach, John Michael. “American Folk Art: Questions and Quandaries.” Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 15, No. 4. (Winter, 1980), pp. 345-355.<br />Slides 14-15, Alicia Steph<br />Candelaria, Lorenzo, and Daniel Kingman. American Music: A Panorama. 4th edition. Schirmer Books, 2011. p. 59. Print.<br />References<br />
  39. 39. "The Kingston Trio... The Trio Pg. 1." The Official Kingston Trio Website. Web. 14 May 2011.<br />"The Dillards." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 May 2011.<br />Miscellaneous responsibilities:<br />Slides 19-21 Resource Specialist - Erica Bone<br />Audio/Video Clips - -Crystal Brewer<br />Narration Script Writer - Hannah Watkins<br />Narration recording – Amy Scurry<br />Powerpoint design - Whitney Welches<br />Pestcoe, Shlomo. "The Banjo Family: The 5-String Banjo." ShlomoPestcoe, Web. 29 Apr. 2011.<br />Slide 16-17, Sarah Andersch<br />"Earl Scruggs." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 May 2011.<br />"Itzkoff, Dave. "Comedian Steve Martin Plays Banjo on His New Bluegrass Album, The Crow." The New York Times. 14 May 2011. Web. 14 May 2011.<br />"Pete Seeger." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 May 2011.<br /> "Steve Martin Reveals the Secret to Great Banjo Playing on The View." Web. 14 May 2011.<br />"Steve Martin: Comedian Takes Banjo Seriously" NPR : National Public Radio. Web. 14 May 2011.<br />"Steve Martin." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 May 2011.<br />References<br />