Banjo NewsLetter suspends publication

Following closely on the death of Spencer Nitchie, his brother and business partner, Donald, has announced that Banjo NewsLetter, the print periodical for banjo players, will suspend publication following the current September issue.

Donald and Spencer took over the magazine when their father, Banjo NewsLetter founder Hub Nitchie, died in 1992. Since 1971, Hub had passionately guided the newsletter from its infancy to a beloved and respected monthly contribution to the continued education and entertainment of 5 string banjo players of every style at every level. Regular columns were dedicated to new students, others to old time playing, or the music of Earl Scruggs. It always included reviews of newly released recordings, instructional materials, and products, instruments, and accessories of interest to the banjo world. Plus interviews with top figures in the community, players, teachers and instrument makers alike.

Donald and Spencer maintained the traditions their father started, and took the magazine into the future, going to a full color format and adding an online subscription function.

After taking over in ’92, they quickly established a workflow that had continued until Spencer’s illness required him to step aside in recent months. Donald served as editor, compiling the various columns and tablature selections, laying everything out in the software, and getting it to the printer each month. Meanwhile Spencer handled the business side of the journal, including advertising, subscriptions, accounts payable and receivable, and mailing services. It was an efficient partnership while it lasted, and kept Banjo NewsLetter a highly-anticipated publication into its 50th year.

But the combined emotional toll of losing his beloved brother, and facing a doubled work load going forward, has caused Donald to hit the pause button and consider the next chapter for the magazine. In his monthly editor’s column, Callous Thumb (started by Hub when he was editor), he explains things thusly.

With the loss of our publisher and the need for a major reorganization, it is with deep regret that we announce the suspension of Banjo NewsLetter publication after this issue. It is too logistically challenging to continue at this time. Many subscribers might not realize it was only the two of us at the helm, producing each magazine, each of us in different states. This issue will also only be online.

In recent years the Banjo NewsLetter has barely subsisted from issue to issue (it’s a challenging time for print publications). The magazine has always been partly a labor of love, and we are trying to think of ways that its content might continue. I have been talking with several people about BNL’s future. It’s too early to say for certain, but hopefully the newsletter will continue, perhaps under new management or in a different format. We ask for your patience. Check our website for further announcements. Spencer and I were proud of the magazine we produced together for so long, and again, I am so grateful to our many loyal subscribers, contributors and advertisers, for your generous support over the years.

In communication with Donald since Spencer’s passing, it is clear that he wants to see the magazine continue, but without him as the sole participant. Anything that lasts for decades will typically pass through several hands. As Hub created something and Spencer and Donald carried it forward to this point, it seems it is time for someone else to raise the banner of Banjo NewsLetter and carry it into the future.

Nitchie is eager to hear from anyone with ideas or a willingness to become involved. He would be open to staying an active part of publication, or turning things over to younger, more energetic managers. It could continue in print or go completely online. What is most important to Donald is seeing his father’s legacy, and he and his brothers’, remain a part of the wonderful world of banjo.

Donald has made the September issue, anchored by a lengthy interview with Béla Fleck by Noam Pikelny, completely free online

Anyone with ideas about the continuation of the venerable Banjo NewsLetter is invited to contact Donald 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.