A fast moving eight-minute interpretive exhibit which introduces visitors to the evolution of the banjo, beginning with its humble roots in American slavery in the mid-1600s.
Beginning in the 1840s the banjo began its gradual shift away from being an exclusively handmade folk instrument. During this era many ingenious experiments in banjo design set the stage for all banjos which were to follow. With many historically significant banjos from this period – including a very rare instrument manufactured by William Boucher in the 1840s – this exhibit outlines early banjo history along with the social and cultural changes which shaped it.
In the 1880s there was a movement to make the banjo a legitimate classical instrument much like the violin of Europe. Gone was the minimal musicianship and low comedy associated with the Minstrel Era. Classically trained musicians were taking the banjo to the great concert halls of the nation and their instruments needed to reflect their stature. The ABM collection of Classic Era banjos from Fairbanks, Cole, Stewart and other manufacturers illustrate the massive strides in banjo production which took place during this period.
During the 1920s and 30s, banjo design and manufacture in America reached a level which can only be described as perfection. The flamboyant banjos to come out of this brief period reflect the best banjos that have ever been – or will ever be. This exhibit highlights some of the brightest stars of the more than 300 jazz age banjos in the ABM collection as well as significant historical events which defined the decade.
Following WWII, the banjo was brought back to popularity primarily through its association with Bluegrass music. Inspired by Charlie Poole and Snuffy Jenkins, another North Carolina native named Earl Scruggs perfected and popularized the lightning three-finger banjo picking technique which is THE sound associated with Bluegrass music. Banjos associated with this unique American musical art form – including an incredibly rare original Gibson Mastertone RB-7 five-string banjo from the pre-WWII era – highlight this exhibit.
While bluegrass defined the banjo in rural regions, socially conscious urban musicians were creating a new voice for the banjo as part of the resurgence in the popularity of traditional folk music which took place in the US during the 1950s and 60s. The popularity of banjoist Pete Seeger and folk groups such as the Weavers set the stage for the later commercial success of groups such as the Kingston Trio, The Limeliters and Peter, Paul and Mary. The simple visual dynamic of the long-neck folk banjos popularized by Pete Seeger – including instruments which belonged to Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio and Erik Darling (who replaced Pete Seeger in the Weavers) highlight this exhibit.
Witness the largest collection of ornately decorated American made banjos from the 1920s and 30s anywhere in the world…truly a national treasure!
Modeled after one of the wildly popular banjo nightclubs of the 1960s known as Your Father’s Mustache, this room is the perfect setting for a party, informal recital or banjo sing along show. In addition to regularly scheduled performances, this room is available for rental…call 405-604-2793 for more information.
The Learning Lounge houses touch screen displays where visitors can watch educational videos on how to play the banjo and view items in the Museum's archives and exhibits. Visitors are encouraged to select a banjo and follow one of the instructional videos.