The Banjo’s African American Heritage

Since Caribbean Blacks created the banjo in the 17th century and carried it to North America in the 18th century, the banjo has been part of African American heritage. An African New World combination of European and African elements, early banjos resembled plucked full spike folk lutes like the akonting of Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau and the bunchundo of Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. Like these instruments, early banjos had gourd or calabash bodies covered by a skin membrane and wood bridges held by string tension. Most early banjos had four gut or fiber strings, often three long and one short drone string, though some had two long strings and one short string. Banjos’ flat fingerboards and tuning pegs, not found on indigenous West African instruments, came from European instruments.

First reported in Jamaica in 1687 and in Martinique in 1698, until the 19th century the banjo was identified exclusively with Black people. Banjos rang in Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Croix, Suriname, and Haiti in the 1700s and early 1800s. First reported in North America in Manhattan in 1736, by the early 1800s, Black folk played banjos from New England to Louisiana. The Old Plantation, painted before 1790 by South Carolina planter John Rose, depicts a Black banjoist and a Black drummer playing for Black dancers. By the 1830s, white entertainers wearing black face makeup and singing what they called Black songs adopted the banjo. Known as “minstrels” by the 1840s, they became widely popular, touring the United States, Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. Though they reflected American racism, their music and dance launched worldwide interest in Black music and the banjo.

By the 1840s five-string banjos with four long strings and one short string one short string, the highest in pitch, but set next to the lowest pitched long string, had developed. Wood frame rims to stretch the skin replaced the gourds. A commercial banjo industry appeared linking entertainers, sellers of banjo music, and manufacturers. By the late 19th century metal covered or replaced the wooden frame rims entirely, frets were added, metal strings replaced gut, and a variety of mechanisms were added to banjos to produce a loud, clear, treble sound. Black banjoists adopted these innovations to make even more powerful music. Black dances powered by banjo persisted into the twentieth century. Though Black banjoists, white show business banjoists, parlor banjoists, and white Southern folk banjoists exchanged tunes and techniques, the drive of Black banjoists to play for African American dancers preserved Black banjo’s distinctive West African musical approaches.

After the Civil War, Black minstrel companies offered real African American music, not pale imitations, eclipsing the white minstrels’ popularity by 1900. African American banjo syncopation helped inspire ragtime, a combination of folk, popular, and art music born in the Black Midwest that became internationally popular in the 1890s and 1900s. Scott Joplin, the great ragtime composer, dedicated compositions to Black banjoists. More ragtime banjo records than piano records appeared in the early 1900s. As banjo playing became a vital part of turn of the century popular music, Black Banjoists like Horace Weston, the Bohee Brothers, Hosea Eason, and James Bland became international stars. Black banjo playing probably reached its height before World War I. Black banjoists swung old time dances and starred in shows from London to Broadway.

Middle class African Americans formed banjo, mandolin, and guitar clubs. The most prominent, Washington’s Aeolians, played for thousands while Black newspapers across the country covered their concerts as society news. Black bandleader James Reese Europe, New York’s foremost bandleader who bridged ragtime and jazz, led a band that featured six banjoists among only ten musicians and formed concert orchestras with scores of banjos. New banjos without drone strings and played with flat picks arose in the 20th Century: tenor banjos, tuned like violas, six-string guitar banjos, mandolin banjos, and plectrum banjos, modeled on the five string banjo without the fifth string. The jazz banjoists that played them included musicians like Elmer Snowden, Zach White, Johnny St. Cyr, Noble Sissle, and Freddie Green, who became major jazz guitarists, band leaders, and composers.

Across the 20th century, the banjo declined. Musicians, white and Black, abandoned the banjo as the old time dances died out. Though Memphis five-string banjoist Gus Cannon made thirty-three blues and rag records from 1927 to 1930, pianos and steel stringed guitars dominated the blues. In jazz the new large arch top and, later, electric guitars replaced banjos. Even in country music, the banjo became chiefly a prop for hayseed comedians until Earl Scruggs changed everything in 1945. Yet, African American traditional banjoists survived even if their music was no longer popular. Folklorists and banjo enthusiasts found and documented surviving Black banjoists like Dink Roberts, Nate and Odell Thompson, Rufus Kasey, Elizabeth Cotton, Lewis Hairston, and Etta Baker. Scholars like Dena Epstein and Cece Conway, reaffirmed the African ancestry, Caribbean origins, and Black American history of the banjo. Starting with 1960s folk blues performers Taj Mahal and Otis Taylor, a new generation revived Black banjo playing.

The 2005 Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina brought this revival to a new stage. Featuring scholars and players of West African music; Black banjoists like Jazz banjoist Don Vappie; the Ebony Hillbillies, New York’s Black string band; the young Black musicians who later formed the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops; banjo historians like Robert Winans and Cece Conway; and leading banjoists like Mike Seeger and Bela Fleck, the gathering celebrated both African American banjo heritage and the Black banjo revival. Since the gathering, scholars from Africa, Europe, and North America have vastly expanded our knowledge of the banjo’s African roots, Caribbean origin, and African American history. Black banjoists have become a growing feature of both folk music and jazz. Young musicians, Black and white, have even taken up the akonting and other West African instruments that are the banjo’s ancestors. The banjo’s African American heritage is celebrated worldwide.

The article was written by Tony Thomas, the leading African American scholar of the banjo. Thomas organized the 2005 Black Banjo Gathering, served as contributing historian to the PBS documentary Give Me the Banjo, plays banjo and guitar with the Ebony Hillbillies, and has presented on Black banjo history and taught banjo at old time music, blues, and banjo festivals, universities, and public schools in the United States and Europe. His work has been published in periodicals like The Black Scholar and the Old Time Herald and is forthcoming at Illinois and Duke University presses. He can be reached for presentations, performance, and classes at BlackBanjoEducation@outlook.com.

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Another Black invention added to the list: the banjo!




Victims of sexual assault expect privacy. But 16-year-old Jada was violated all over again once explicit images from her rape surfaced on Twitter. So Jada decided to take her story public.

“There’s no point in hiding,” the Houston teen tells KHOU. “Everybody has already seen my face and my body, but that’s not what I am and who I am.”

I’m sharing this because certain people on twitter  NEEDS TO BE STOP! Specially the ignorant side of black twitter! Every time something bad happen to a young black women or black girl twitter is quickly to explode it into something bigger! And Jada story is one of them! She’s a 16 yearls high school student she could be your sister,cousin, neighbor, or classmate! This tragic thing happened to her and these ignorant people on twitter looking for followers exploit this to point where the disgusting hashtag was created #jadapose. People tweeting pictures of themselves in the pose in which Jada was found! What I find even worse about this its that a lot of the people doing these poses are young black men and women. Something like this happen to someone who could possibly be your sister and instead of asking for justice you rather create a new meme? And some of them even argue “oh how do you know she got rape?” Does it matter? a picture of an underage girl laying on the floor looking like she’s passed out is not something be laughed at EVER! Like ”A rape victim’s trauma is not grounds for a new internet meme. Pls do not partake in such ignorance. Report pictures.”

I’m happy and proud of Jada for speaking and not letting this disgusting thing becoming any bigger

Which brings me to what I’m trying to ask or say here when will sexual assault towards black girls and young black women will be taking serious by young black people?

i truly don’t understand what kind of world we live in.

This is absolutely horrific and abhorrent. Look at how few notes this has. Now watch as the so-called feminists and defenders of women on this site stay silent. The black woman’s body has no value to this society except for how it can be exploited and dehumanized. This is straight up misogynoir. This is an egregious act. This shows how sick our culture is. Rape culture is so pervasive and normalized that many will see nothing wrong with this new meme, much like as was the case with ‘Trayvoning’ (though that was white and non-Black POC racialized violence). This is also why I stay off of twitter.


if you a piece of shit you gon always be a piece of shit, whether you get injured in some type of fucked up way, whether you die, fuckin WHATEVER

folks always wanna be like “oh they were a great person” when some bad shit but just because somethin bad happened that does not absolve them of being the huge walking turd that they were beforehand like


(Source: gracie-law)






ゆめゆめうたがうことなかれ 夢みるこどもの夢の夢  by ちーこ on pixiv
got myself a Furla candy bag. ^________________________^

then had friend-bf-time at twin peaks.
im soooooooooooo happy look at my beautiful bag.
i was torn between this and a marc jacobs crossbody, but i already have so many marc jacobs bags.

got myself a Furla candy bag. ^________________________^

then had friend-bf-time at twin peaks.

im soooooooooooo happy look at my beautiful bag.

i was torn between this and a marc jacobs crossbody, but i already have so many marc jacobs bags.

(Source: glendagh)

(Source: cactehi)

baby: d-d-d-d
dad: daddy?
baby: destroy capitalism
karl marx: nice


Women of the World

Photos by Steve McCurry

(Source: soleil-de-matin)