The banjo has been called by many names over its history, but they all refer to the same sound--strings humming over skin--that has eased souls and electrified crowds for centuries. The Banjo invites us to hear that sound afresh in a biography of one of America's iconic folk instruments.Read more...
The banjo has been called by many names over its history, but they all refer to the same sound--strings humming over skin--that has eased souls and electrified crowds for centuries. The Banjo invites us to hear that sound afresh in a biography of one of America's iconic folk instruments. Attuned to a rich heritage spanning continents and cultures, Laurent Dubois traces the banjo from humble origins, revealing how it became one of the great stars of American musical life.
In the seventeenth century, enslaved people in the Caribbean and North America drew on their memories of varied African musical traditions to construct instruments from carved-out gourds covered with animal skin. Providing a much-needed sense of rootedness, solidarity, and consolation, banjo picking became an essential part of black plantation life. White musicians took up the banjo in the nineteenth century, when it became the foundation of the minstrel show and began to be produced industrially on a large scale. Even as this instrument found its way into rural white communities, however, the banjo remained central to African American musical performance.
Twentieth-century musicians incorporated the instrument into styles ranging from ragtime and jazz to Dixieland, bluegrass, reggae, and pop. Versatile and enduring, the banjo combines rhythm and melody into a single unmistakable sound that resonates with strength and purpose. From the earliest days of American history, the banjo's sound has allowed folk musicians to create community and joy even while protesting oppression and injustice.
- ISBN-13: 9780674047846
- ISBN-10: 0674047842
- Publisher: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard Universi
- Publish Date: March 2016
- Page Count: 384
- Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-04
- Reviewer: Staff
In this less than melodious celebration of the origins and history of the banjo, Dubois delivers a straightforward social history of the relationship between race and music. Drawing deeply on archives of primary materials, Dubois traces the life of the banjo: its earliest days in Africa, its introduction into Caribbean culture by enslaved peoples in the 17th century, its central role in the lives of slaves on 19th-century plantations, its use in minstrel shows, its rise in the Appalachian mountains during the second half of the 19th century, and its role in the folk movement and protest movements of the 1950s and 1960s, especially in the music of Pete Seeger. The instrument has had many names—banza, banjaw, bandjo, banjor—but they all describe a kind of "drum on a stick" with a long neck, at the top of which are four tuning pegs. Dubois illustrates that the banjo was instrumental in transculturation, a process by which a number of cultures shaped one another to create something new, especially as the banjo moved from Africa to the various indigenous cultures of the Atlantic. Regrettably, Dubois leaves out many women banjo players, such as Wilma Lee Cooper, Roni Stoneman, and Alison Brown, who as the cofounder of Compass Records has done more in the last 20 years to raise the profile of the banjo and its history than perhaps any other musician. (Mar.)