Hank Smith, fearless leader of Hank, Pattie & The Current, is the latest banjoist to be featured in the series of Oral History interviews conducted by Bud Bennett at Radford University. Based on his personal interest in the banjo, and being surrounded by Appalachian culture in southwestern Virginia, Bud has recorded a series of lengthy, in-depth interviews with prominent five stringers, capturing their thoughts, history, and influences for posterity.
Bennett, who maintains the Archives & Special Collections for Radford’s McConnell Library, is now up to nine of these banjo player segments, most running just over an hour with some going much longer. He got started in 2014 with Butch Robins, who had so much to say that Bud just kept the tape rolling, and when they were finished, he had over 6 hours of interesting discussion and music.
When the segments with Butch were posted, the response was so strong and immediate that Bud decided to keep going with this project. As he told us a few years ago, he loved getting to meet and interact with his banjo heroes, and if folks enjoyed the videos, he would keep making them. Since that time, he has shared episodes with Sammy Shelor, Jens Kruger, John Bullard, and Gina Furtado, plus noted builders Geoff Stelling and Tom Nechville.
For this most recent installment, Bud travelled to Raleigh, NC with two of his colleagues at the library to interview Hank at his home. Despite his youthful look, Smith has been hard at work as a banjo professional since finishing college. Initially touring with jamgrass titans Barefoot Manner until they left the road in 2009, he stayed in their home base of Raleigh, playing with a number of regional groups and founded the world’s only Béla Fleck & The Flecktones tribute band, Blu Bop.
Since 2016 Hank has been recording and performing original acoustic music of the progressive variety with his musical partner, Pattie Hopkins Kinlaw, and their talented band. He also teaches banjo at the University of North Carolina, and maintains large number of private banjo students in the Triangle area.
Though adept with the bluegrass style, Smith has dedicated most of his energy of late to pursuing jazz and classical forms with his banjo. In a pair of interviews running nearly two hours, students and fans of the five string banjo can explore the creative mind of Hank Smith with Bennett.
You can see all of Bud’s interviews on his Appalachian Music and Culture blog. Anyone with an interest in modern music on the banjo will find them fascinating.