2020 Steve Martin Banjo Prize to be shared among five banjoists

The five co-winners of the 2020 Steve Martin Banjo Prize were announced today by the FreshGrass Foundation, who had partnered earlier this year with Steve Martin to keep this award, which he initially conceived and funded, going forward into the future.

Martin had designed the annual prize of $50,000 to be given for each of ten years to a banjo player of special merit, and had originally called it the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music. Now shortened to the Steve Martin Banjo Prize, FreshGrass and other new partner, Compass Music, intend for the award to be given to a wider variety of players in many different styles.

Announced today as 2020 winners were Jake Blount, clawhammer banjo player who focuses on old time music from African Americans; Catherine “BB” Bowness, a New Zealand native who is the banjo player with bluegrass band Mile Twelve; Matthew Davis, outstanding young musician who, at 21, is the leader of Circus No 9; Buddy Wachter, leading tenor banjo stylist in the United States for a generation, and; Gerry O’Connor, legendary Irish tenor banjoist of unusual ability.

These five will share this year’s $50,000 award equally, and will be featured in a livestream presentation this Wednesday evening at 8:00 p.m. (EDT). Steve Martin will introduce the proceedings, which will also include performances by all five 2020 awardees. Also scheduled to play are Chris Thile, Dom Flemons, and Alison Brown with the Kronos Quartet.

The livestream on October 14 will be accessible on the Facebook pages of all of the sponsors of the event: FreshGrass Foundation, FreshGrass Festival, No Depression, Folk Alley, MusiCares, and MASS MOCA. There is no charge to watch, but a donations of $15 is requested of those with the ability to pay.

Starting in 2021, a prize of $25,000 will be awarded to one or more banjo players chosen by the Board of Directors of the Steve Martin Banjo Prize, which includes Martin as Chairman Emeritus, Alison Brown as Co-Chair, and notable banjoists like Béla Fleck, Tony Trischka, Noam Pikelny, Kristin Scott Benson, and several others as members.

Full details about the prize can be found online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.