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'Picturing The Banjo' Through American History

Only Available in Archive Formats.
'Picturing The Banjo' Through American History

Music Interviews

'Picturing The Banjo' Through American History

'Picturing The Banjo' Through American History

Only Available in Archive Formats.

The Banjo Player, an 1856 painting by William Sydney Mount. Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages hide caption

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Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages

The Banjo Player, an 1856 painting by William Sydney Mount.

Long Island Museum of American Art, History & Carriages

An exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., focuses on the imagery of a central player in America's deeply conflicted racial history: the banjo.

A Banjo Sampler

'Soon in the Morning Babe,' by Mike Seeger

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'Going Where I've Never Been Before,' by John Snipes

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'Oh, I'se So Wicked,' by Bob Flesher

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5223333/5223382" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

'Country Blues,' by Dock Boggs

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5223333/5223384" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Banjo and Bluegrass

Paul Brown Traces the Path from Black to White to Bluegrass

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"Picturing the Banjo" features paintings, lithographs and other visual media representations of the banjo from the era of slavery through contemporary times. The images track the arrival of an instrument that came from Africa with the slaves. As it was adopted by whites, the instrument fell out of favor with blacks, and became a staple of demeaning minstrel shows.

NPR newsman Paul Brown is also a banjo player.

"By the time I heard a banjo I was 5," Brown recalls "I ordered it through Sears Roebuck. Once I figured out how to tune it I was off and running."

Beyond simply playing banjo, Brown has studied its history since his teen years. As he takes Debbie Elliott on a musical tour of the exhibit, he reflects on what it's like to play an instrument with "a troubled past."

'Miss Apperson' playing banjo beside statue of Flora in niche of Sen. George Hearst's residence, Washington, D.C. The photograph was taken in 1895 by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Library of Congress hide caption

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Library of Congress

A Pastoral Visit, 1881 painting by Richard Norris Brooke. Corcoran Museum hide caption

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Corcoran Museum

Photo of Theresa Vaughan playing a Fairbanks Electric No. 2 banjo, circa 1895. Collection of James F. Bollman hide caption

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Collection of James F. Bollman

Photographer William Wegman offers his distinctive take on the subject matter in 'Blue Period with Banjo,' a 1980 Polaroid ER print photographed again by Rick Gardener. Contemporary Art Museum, Houston hide caption

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Contemporary Art Museum, Houston

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Southern Banjo Sounds

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Southern Banjo Sounds
Artist
Mike Seeger
Label
Smithsonian Folkways
Released
1998

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Black Banjo Songsters

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Black Banjo Songsters
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Smithsonian Folkways
Released
1998

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Minstrel Banjo Style

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Released
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Old-Time Music from Southwest Virginia

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Old-Time Music from Southwest Virginia
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Label
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Released
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