BBC Radio 4 FM carried a 30 minute program yesterday on the history of the banjo. It is set to air again on January 29 from 11:00-11:30 p.m. (GMT), but it can also be heard on the BBC web site in its entirety.
The perspective is decidedly British, as one might expect, and the approach is serious and academic – aside from lauching the show with a typically smug banjo joke, not the only one, I’m sad to report.
They discuss the downstroke and minstrel styles that were popular in Britain during the Victorian era, and trace the history of English banjo players of that day, through modern times. Some prominent British banjoists are interviewed, along with a current builder.
The BBC describes the show thusly on their site:
Julian Vincent from Bath University presents a history of the banjo, a much-maligned instrument which enjoyed enormous popularity in bygone days.
From its African roots via the American slave trade, the banjo became the prime instrument of popular entertainment, particularly in Britain, from the minstrel shows featuring blacked-up whites to the drawing rooms of fine young Victorian ladies.
In the last third of the program, they focus on bluegrass and clawhammer banjo, showing just how truly international the interest in this music has become.
The show is entitled Syncopatin’ Shuffle, and it is currently available online in Real Media format. It’s a great listen.