Alan Munde accepts induction into the American Banjo Museum from Doug Parsons – photo © Pamm Tucker
Over the weekend of September 23-24, the Bricktown region of downtown Oklahoma City was in the spotlight for banjo pickers and banjo lovers worldwide. The American Banjo Museum honored three elite banjoists with the 2022 inductions into their Banjo Hall of Fame, and the 2nd annual Banjo Fest. Prior to 2014, more than 70 individuals were thus recognized for their contribution to the banjo world. Starting out as the National Four String Banjo Museum, the organization has evolved to also encompass the five string, and to include a performance category in addition to the other existing categories honoring the four string banjo specifically.
Thursday evening as I walked up the red brick sidewalk to the mosaic tiled entrance of the museum, I was struck by the realization that another exciting evening awaited beyond the double glass doors. As always, I was greeted with a smile, and a “Thank You” as the celebration was about to begin. Upstairs in the event room (very similar to an old Shakey’s pizza setting) was the kickoff BBQ. Scott Whitfield, 2021 inductee, entertained. Scott’s musical background stems from blues, country, jazz, and rock. His West Texas personality was a fabulous welcome to the weekend’s events. Lincoln Hensley and Aynsley Porchak also took center stage, as they posthumously represented Bluegrass Today’s former correspondent, and five string banjo legend, Sonny Osborne. Randy Morris (2022 Inductee) and Pat Terry, Jr (2016 inductee) entertained just like they did at Walt Disney World. Every eye was on the entertainment, however; anticipation of Friday was the buzz.
Friday was an extremely busy day at the Museum.
Workshops by Scott Whitfield (Tenor Banjo), Alan Munde (5-String Banjo) and Tyler Jackson (Tenor Banjo) were held to start off the day. Later that evening, the Hall of Fame awards were held at the Devon Tower, 50 floors above the hustle and bustle of OKC, where it was all about the banjo.
The honorees were:
Sonny Osborne (Five String Performance) – Sonny was born in Kentucky, and by the age of 11, the banjo was in his hands and he began to excel with his talents. Given to him by his Dad, and a little help from Larry Richardson, Sonny soon learned how to play. His brother Bobby introduced Sonny to jamming with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. Bobby enlisted in the Marine Corps, opening doors for Sonny to play with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass boys in 1952 when he was only 13 years of age. It was in 1953 that the Osborne Brothers were introduced to the world, and 52 years later, Sonny laid his picks down owing to a shoulder injury. After a long and noteworthy career, the brothers were inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame and had been longtime members of The Grand Old Opry. Tony Trischka refers to Sonny as a master of the five string banjo, and a prime promoter of the Earl Scruggs style, with his own personal innovations. Sonny passed away in October 2021 and was inducted posthumously.
Don Vappie (Four String Performance) – Don Vappie is the recipient of the 2021 Steve Martin Banjo Prize. Known for his contribution as musician, composer, and educator, Vappie has preserved New Orleans Creole history with his own unique style. Vappie is widely regarded as a unique performer for his style and sound on the four string banjo.
The Banjo Kings (Historical) – Dick Roberts (tenor banjo) and Robert Roundtree (plectrum banjo) formed The Banjo Kings, one of the most well known acts to perform during the booming times after WWII. Working under the Good Time Jazz Label brought four string banjo to the world with an upbeat personality that could be felt as well as heard.
Randy Morris (Promotion) – A California native, Randy Morris has that Walt Disney connection. After entertaining with traditional jazz in his hometown, Morris signed on with the Walt Disney Company in the early 1970s and established his banjo identity with The Banjo Kings, the Hoop De Doo Review, and The Riverboat Rascals. He also led the band at Rosie O’Grady’s in Orlando and still found time to promote, archive, and preserve iconic banjo recordings.
Alan Munde (Instruction and Education) – A Norman, Oklahoma native, Munde traveled the US playing gigs, and every opportunity he could find, starting with Jimmy Martin in 1969. Munde worked directly with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Byron Berline, and in 1972 The Country Gazette where he remained a central figure for 20 years. He spent another 20 years on the faculty of South Plains College in Levelland, TX where he taught in their Commercial Music program. Munde has served on the board of the International Bluegrass Association. Munde is still actively performing with his band Alan Munde Gazette. It would not be too much to call him one of the most influential five string banjo players of the past 50 years for his ability to seamlessly mix the Earl Scruggs style with more modern approaches of his own.
While the Hall of Fame Induction was just one of the weekend’s banjo-filled highlights in Bricktown, it was THE event that highlighted performances from bluegrass to jazz to old time to pop. Live entertainment began at noon with free admission and performances from: Scott Whitfield, Shelby Eicher, Randy Morris, Pat Terry, Jr., The Hunt Brothers, Lucas Ross, Don Vappie, Richard Moten, Thomas Fisher, Alan Munde, Bill Honker, Elliot Rogers, Kyle Dillingham & Horseshoe Road, Tyler Jackson, and Edgar Cruz. Also, Lincoln Hensley & Ashley Porchak, and many others.
The evening and weekend came to an end with the annual pizza party sing-a-long, hosted by Johnny Baier and Randy Morris. As I was leaving, I spoke with Doug Parsons, President of the ABM board, who told me, “Our plans for the future are to make Banjo Bash one of the largest festivals in the country. Oklahoma City is the place to make that happen.”
Bravo American Banjo Museum. You pulled it off again!