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.
Wide-ranging and illustrated with twenty color images, Banjo Roots and Branches offers a wealth of new information to scholars of African American and folk musics as well as the worldwide community of banjo aficionados.
Contributors: Greg C. Adams, Nick Bamber, Jim Dalton, George R. Gibson, Chuck Levy, Shlomo Pestcoe, Pete Ross, Tony Thomas, Saskia Willaert, and Robert B. Winans.
Long a symbol of American culture, the banjo actually originated in Africa before European-Americans adopted it. Karen Linn shows how the banjo--despite design innovations and several modernizing agendas--has failed to escape its image as a "half-barbaric" instrument symbolic of antimodernism and sentimentalism.
Caught in the morass of American racial attitudes and often used to express ambivalence toward modern industrial society, the banjo stood in opposition to the "official" values of rationalism, modernism, and belief in the beneficence of material progress. Linn uses popular literature, visual arts, advertisements, film, performance practices, instrument construction and decoration, and song lyrics to illustrate how notions about the banjo have changed.
Linn also traces the instrument from its African origins through the 1980s, alternating between themes of urban modernization and rural nostalgia. She examines the banjo fad of bourgeois Northerners during the late nineteenth century; the African-American banjo tradition and the commercially popular cultural image of the southern black banjo player; the banjo's use in ragtime and early jazz; and the image of the white Southerner and mountaineer as banjo player.
Browse our collection.
See BiblioVault's publisher services.
Files for college accessibility offices.
BiblioVault ® 2001 - 2023
The University of Chicago Press