Grandpa Jones and Buck Trent to the Banjo Hall of Fame

The American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City has announced the 2023 class to be inducted into their Banjo Hall of Fame. Among the five honorees this year are two of great import for five string fans, Grandpa Jones and Buck Trent.

Starting in 1998 as the National Four-String Banjo Hall of Fame, celebrating the contributions of tenor and plectrum banjoists from the jazz age to the present, the Hall was expanded in 2013 to include all types of banjos and banjo players, as well as reaching back for historically prominent artists not yet recognized.

A quick look at the current members of the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame reveals the names of more than 100 exceptional performers, instructors, manufacturers, publishers, and promoters of the banjo.

Chosen to be inducted at this year’s gala Hall of Fame Celebration in October are:

  • Buck Trent – Five String Performance
  • Kurt Abell – Four String Performance
  • Grandpa Jones – Historical
  • Akira Tsumura – Promotion
  • Norbert Pietsch – Design & Manufacture

The Museum has provided these brief biographical sketches of the 2023 inductees:

BUCK TRENT – Five-String Performance – Born and raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Buck Trent was performing on local radio stations by age 11. He moved to Nashville in 1959 where he joined the Bill Carlisle Band and first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. Stints as a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boysand Porter Wagoner’s Wagon Mastersset the stage for his unforgettable performances with Roy Clark on Hee Haw from 1974 to 1982. The recipient of numerous awards from the Country Music Associationand Music City News, Trent joined Roy Clark as part of the first country music act to tour the Soviet Union prior to taking up a long-standing residency as one of Branson, Missouri’s premier entertainers.

KURT ABELL – Four-String Performance – Throughout a fifty-plus year performance career, Kurt Abell has tirelessly worked to prove that the banjo is an instrument in a class by itself. Career highlights include playing at the Red Garter Saloonin San Francisco in the early ’70s, television and movie appearances, a ten-year relationship with the Washboard Wizardz, headlining banjo festivals from coast to coast, performing as a jazz musician in Europe and Asia, and appearing as a guest artist with the Modesto Symphony. Abell has over a dozen recordings to his credit, and most recently appeared with the Catsnjammer Jazz Band, Kurt Abell and his Rhythm Knickers, The Creole Jazz Kings, and Galen Drake & Athens Abell – LIVE. His technique of teaching banjo artistry is close to his heart but performing is his passion.

GRANDPA JONES – Historical – Louis Marshall “Grandpa” Jones was born in 1913 in Niagara, Kentucky, and spent his teenage years in Akron, Ohio where he began singing country music tunes on a radio show on WJW. By the late 1930s he took on the “Grandpa” persona, learning to play banjo and joining the WLS Barn Dance in Chicago. After serving in WWII, in 1946 Jones joined the Grand Ole Opry, becoming a mainstay of the institution for decades. However, Jones period of greatest national recognition began in 1968 when he became a regular on the long running Hee Haw television program. When Grandpa Jones passed away in 1998, the banjo world lost one of its most beloved ambassadors.

AKIRA TSUMURA – Promotion – Although born in Japan, Akira Tsumura has had a lifelong affection for American popular culture. This musically manifested itself in 1956 when Akira became interested in Dixieland jazz and acquired his first banjo. The music and instrument ignited his banjo passion and, after earning a degree from the University of Michigan, he began amassing what would become the finest and most comprehensive collection of vintage banjos ever assembled. In addition to well over 1000 instruments, Tsumura’s collection included enough banjo-related statuary and ephemera to fill several museums. His legendary book, One Thousand and One Banjos, remains a definitive work which mirrors his passion for historically significant vintage banjos.

NORBERT PIETSCH – Design & Manufacture – In a small shop located in Bremen, Germany luthier Norbert Pietsch is hand-crafting custom instruments which many players around the world consider to be the finest banjos ever made. Favoring exacting and precise specifications to mass production, Pietsch does his own woodwork, metalwork, carving, inlaying, engraving, and finishing. A one-man operation, Pietsch’s mantra is to provide the working musician with a banjo which produces full and balanced sound, is easy to play and beauty to behold. His many international supporters from Stephen DiBonaventura to Ken Aoki to Sean Moyses all feel he has achieved his goal.

More information on the 2023 Banjo Hall of Fame Celebration, running October 12-14, and the daily operation of the American Banjo Museum, which offers an array of exhibits tracing the history and development of the instrument, visit the AMB web site.

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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.