Black Banjo Reclamation Project gets a boost from instrument builders

Dom Flemons teaches a recent banjo class hosted by the Black Banjo Reclamation
Project at the Old Time School of Folk Music in Chicago

Following several generations of African Americans running away from old time music and the banjo in particular, the work of artists like Dom Flemons and serious scholarship demonstrating not only the African origins of the banjo, but the participation of many formerly enslaved people in early Appalachian music, that cultural impression is rapidly changing.

One such effort in that direction is the Black Banjo Reclamation Project, who in the words of their motto, is a vehicle to return instruments of African origin to the descendants of their original makers. The Project offers classes for young students to acquaint them with the banjo and its rich bi-continental history.

That goal has been enhanced this month through the IBMA Foundation’s Arnold Shultz Fund, and major donations from Lee and Ageleke Zapis, builders of the Z Mandolin, and Deering Banjos. The Zapis family paid the costs for 10 Deering Goodtime Banjos with gig bags, which the company offered the Foundation at a discount. They will be used for the Black Banjo Reclamation Project’s educational program in Oakland the first part of next year.

Hannah Mayree, Executive Director of the Project, says that they are thankful for the assistance, and describes what the students will be learning.

“The focus of the program for the first four weeks will be to learn to play songs on the banjos that allow young African American students the opportunity to connect with different parts of history, and different parts of ourselves. The next four sessions will include woodworking, gourd craft and cultivation, ‘goat stewardship’ [a reference to animal hides used on early banjos] and instrument repair. I am truly grateful, and I look forward so much to being able to provide guidance and support for the folks receiving these banjos.”

Each of the ten students in the class will receive their own Goodtime banjo after the completion of the class.

The IBMA Foundation supports programs and initiatives fostering the growth of bluegrass music through charitable donations and planned giving. Their mission is to build a brighter future for bluegrass music by helping donors create a bluegrass legacy, by supporting programs that focus on bluegrass music-related arts and culture, education, literary work, and historic preservation. Their Arnold Shultz Fund is specifically designated to support efforts to bring people of color into the music, with donations earmarked for that purpose. Shultz was a black blues musician in Kentucky who was hugely influential to a young Bill Monroe, and inspired the budding artist to put the blues in bluegrass.

More information about the IBMA Foundation, a nonprofit organization, 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.