Utne Blogs > Arts and Culture

The Banjo in Black and White

by Staff


Tags: banjo, traditional music, minstrel show, country music, African American music, Mental Floss,

Nothing brings to mind traditional American music as immediately as the sound of a banjo. Just ask any guitarist who’s “gone country” by picking up a banjo, tuning it like a guitar, and riding that Americana-tourism train.

But northern rockers in snapped-up plaid shirts were not the first to appropriate the banjo. The current issue of Mental Floss offers a brief, informative history of the instrument’s development in American music (article not available online). Interesting stuff—I’d never considered, for instance, that the banjo’s simultaneous rise in white culture and decline in black culture (in the late 19th century) might both have been due largely to its prominence in minstrel shows.

Also, the article’s worth checking out just for its doctored photo of the four Deliverance city slickers joined by the star of that other classic of ’70s banjo cinema, Kermit the Frog. —Steve Thorngate