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...
Marc Fields is a writer/producer/director of arts and cultural documentaries and the winner of five Mid-Atlantic regional Emmys for his work on PBS. His 90-minute music history Give Me the Banjo (narrated by Steve Martin, featuring Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck and Rhiannon Giddens) had its national PBS premiere in November 2011. Previously, he wrote the scripts for two episodes of the Emmy-winning six-part PBS series, Broadway: The American Musical. His one-hour documentary Willie the Lion, about jazz legend Willie the Lion Smith, (narrated by Joe Morton, with Amiri Baraka, Artie Shaw, Dick Hyman and Dr. Billy Taylor) aired on PBS and was shown at the Smithsonian. His production credits include four years as a Series Producer for State of the Arts, a weekly arts magazine on New Jersey Public Broadcasting, for whom he produced over eighty shows and five arts specials. He is the co-author of the award-winning biography/theater history From the Bowery to Broadway: Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theater, (Oxford University Press, 1993), and is a frequent consultant for programs about American popular culture. Funders for his documentary programs include the Southern Humanities Media Fund, N.Y Council for the Humanities, Mass Humanities, N.J. Council for the Arts, The Tides Foundation, the Popular Culture Association and New England Foundation for the Arts. Currently, he teaches documentary production and screenwriting at Emerson College (Boston, MA) and is the Graduate Program Director for the MFA in Film and Media Arts. He previously taught screenwriting and production at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, the New School and at Concord Academy. He is nearing completion on The Banjo Project: Stories of America’s Instrument, a digital interactive museum for the history of America’s quintessential instrument from its African roots to the present.
A.B. Princeton University, Summa Cum Laude
M.F.A. New York University, with honors
Marc's temporary website: http://banjo.emerson.edu/demo/ [work in progress]