Busy Kids Love Music
Busy Kids Love Music
Episode 124: The Banjo


Welcome back to Busy Kids Love Music, where we delve into the fascinating world of music and its incredible instruments. Today’s episode is dedicated to exploring the unique and versatile banjo, the perfect instrument to learn about during this African-American Music Appreciation Month as it is significant in Black musical traditions of the past and present.

**Exploring African Ancestors:**

Listeners will be treated to a glimpse of the banjo’s ancestor, the akonting, as we learn about similar instruments in West Africa and their journey to the Americas through the enslaved African population.

**The Influence of Blackface Minstrelsy:**

In the 1830s, blackface minstrelsy propelled the banjo into fame in the United States, albeit through problematic portrayals of Black culture. We’ll discuss the role of Joel Walker Sweeney and other white performers in popularizing the banjo in minstrel shows. By the mid-19th century, the banjo had become a ubiquitous part of American musical culture. We’ll explore how makers and music book writers tailored the banjo’s image and playing style to appeal to white audiences.

**Banjo’s Enduring Legacy:**

The banjo’s bright tones and distinctive fingerpicking style made it the most popular stringed instrument in America by the late 1800s. Let’s learn about and celebrate the banjo’s continued influence across different musical genres, from bluegrass to jazz and rock. Modern banjo virtuosos like Béla Fleck and Rhiannon Giddens ensure the ongoing relevance in today’s music landscape. I encourage you to explore the curated playlist of banjo music linked below!

If you enjoyed this quick dip into banjo history, I encourage you to follow the work of banjo artist Rhiannon Giddens for a deeper dive into the history of the banjo. Much of her life’s work is to educate others on American history through the lens of the banjo, and she has an amazing series on the instrument’s history here.

Musical Samples You’ll Hear in this Episode:

Daniel Jatta Plays an Akonting Tune Written by his Father

Willow Osborne – Foggy Mountain Breakdown

Alabama Joe Tom Briggs banjo

Appalachian Bluegrass Banjo & Fiddle Music

Béla Fleck – Wheels Up

Playlist for Episode 124

You’ll love the variety of banjo music in this episode’s curated playlist. Check it out here. 

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