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Thursday, 9 February 2012

Banjo

The banjo is a four or five stringed plucked instrument with a long neck and circular drum-type sound box, which is usually associated with country, folk, Irish traditional music and bluegrass music.

It was originally a nine-stringed instrument with a gourd body and a wooden stick neck, which originated in Africa before making its way to America, where it has long been associated with the culture of Southern African Americans.

The first definitive description of an early banjo is from a 1687 journal entry by Sir Hans Sloane, an English physician visiting Jamaica, who called this Afro-Caribbean instrument a “strum strump.”

President Thomas Jefferson remarked on the skill of black slaves playing the instrument in the late 18th century, referring to it as a "banjar."

The banjo was popularised by the minstrel shows of the 19th century. Joel Walker Sweeney, an American minstrel performer from Virginia, was the first white man to play the banjo on stage. He replaced the gourd with the drum-like sound box and reduced the strings from nine to five.

William Boucher (1822-1899) was the earliest commercial manufacturer of banjos. The Smithsonian Institution has three of his banjos from the years 1845-7.

Sweeney's group, the American Virginia Minstrels, introduced the banjo to Britain in 1846, where they became very popular in music halls.

Here are some contemporary songs featuring the banjo.

Sources Songfacts, Oxford University Press

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