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Microphone Month 5


The banjo is often thought of as a native American instrument, originally developed by slaves in the “old south” and into the Appalachian Mountains after instruments they were familiar with in Africa. But the first instance actually appeared in the Caribbean, circa 1678. In any case, early examples had a gourd body with an animal skin top and three sets of strings with no frets. The modern banjo, as we know it, was first popularized by Joel Sweeney, an American minstrel performer in the 1830s. By the end of World War I in 1918, the banjo slowly overtook the mandolin in popularity, and the tenor banjo was the ideal instrument for “swinging marching songs and the growing trend towards boistrous spontaneity! Its ability to pick out a cutting melody line or keep up a percussive rhythm was welcome as a popular new voice in the 1920s. The history and evolution of banjos could (and has) easily filled several books. There is more interest today in exploring traditional music styles and the banjo plays a huge part in the distinctive sound of Dixieland, tango, and bluegrass music.

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