Directed by Marc Fields
Narrated by Steve Martin, Give Me the Banjo brings together contemporary players in all styles—Earl Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Bela Fleck, Taj Mahal, Ralph Stanley, Abigail Washburn, Mike Seeger, Don Vappie and Cynthia Sayer, among many others—with folklorists, historians, instrument makers and passionate amateurs to tell the story of America’s instrument in all its richness and diversity.Brought to the New World in the memories and traditions of enslaved Africans, repeatedly re-invented by African- and European-Americans, the banjo has shaped most American musical forms: the minstrel show, ragtime and early jazz, old-time folk and the folk revival, as well as blues, bluegrass, country and new hybrids yet to be labeled.
Using the banjo’s diverse musical styles, contested social history and colorful players as our narrative “thread,” we explore in a new light many of the issues at the heart of American culture today, including lingering stereotypes of race, class, regionalism and gender. In its long history, the banjo has symbolized patriotism and protest, pain and joy, low entertainment and sophisticated leisure. It’s 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. Wrote one commentator over a century ago, “No instrument has had to fight its way through such bitter antagonism as the banjo.” Far from gaining respect and status as an American icon, the banjo has been the symbolic prop for a perniciousassortment of stereotypes right up to the present day...
THE FILMMAKER: Marc Fields Director, Producer, Writer…A five-time regional Emmy winner, his public television documentaries on the arts and humanities have been funded by the CPB, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the New Jersey Council on the Arts, the New York Council for the Humanities, the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities and the New England Foundation for the Arts.