“The banjo is arguably America’s front porch instrument. Brought to the New World by enslaved Africans, it has been a black instrument, a white instrument, a laborer’s pastime and a socialite’s diversion, a young person’s fad and an old-timer’s friend. It’s the product of three centuries of cultural exchanges, borrowings and face-to-face interactions, traveling from the margins to the mainstream and back again. Stories of the banjo — who played it and listened to it, how it was played, and in what contexts – inevitably cross and confound boundaries of race, culture, class, region and gender.

THE BANJO PROJECT began in 1997, inspired by the broad range of musical styles and cultural sources on Tony Trischka’s brilliant World Turning CD (Rounder, 1993). With the banjo, I found a new vehicle for traveling freely through the history of American popular music without being fenced in by market categories and academic definitions. From the Caribbean Calinda, the minstrel show, Tin Pan Alley, early blues and ragtime, through hot and swing jazz, bluegrass, country, oldtime, jug band, folk revival, Celtic, mento and other world musics – the banjo encompasses such vast and varied landscapes that I ended up making a feature-length TV documentary for PBS (Give Me the Banjo, 2011), a DVD with extra content not in the broadcast, a live-stage multi-media program featuring Tony and band, and now, an online cultural resource center for the history of America’s instrument.

Watch/listen to a Video performance… Visit the Timeline… Get to know some of the key Players… Go to the Maps to discover the banjo’s roots and routes… Follow a style that interests you… Get recommendations for specially curated Narratives on relevant and compelling topics…”

– Marc Fields

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