The Pisgah Banjo Company in Asheville, NC has launched a raffle for a very special banjo in honor of Black History Month, with proceeds from the sweepstakes donated to the IBMA Foundation’s Arnold Shultz Fund. The Fund was established last year to support activities designed to increase participation among people of color in bluegrass music, and named in honor of the blues musician who gave Bill Monroe his first professional gig.
Pisgah has built a unique instrument for the raffle, which deep historical import for students of banjo history. This custom banjo was made from heart pine more than 200 years old, salvaged from the roof supports of Pleasant Retreat, a former plantation near Appomattox, VA. Very near Pleasant Retreat was the home of Joel Walker Sweeney, a minstrel banjoist who brought the instrument into popularity among free American households, using techniques he had learned from enslaved farm workers, probably at Pleasant Retreat. For some time Sweeney had been credited with adding a fifth string to the banjo, though that detail is in dispute.
While the 25.5” banjo neck is made from the salvaged pine, the 12” rim was made from walnut, with a tone ring and rim cap made from the pine. A scooped fingerboard of persimmon is used with simple black dot inlays, and a persimmon peghead overlay. It comes with a John Balch pre-mounted goat skin head installed, using brass hardware and Gotoh tuners.
Raffle tickets are available now through February 28 for $20 from the Pisgah Banjo web site. There is no limit to the number of chances you can purchase, and the company has shared a goal of selling 1,000 tickets and donating $20,000 to the Arnold Shultz Fund.
This one-of-a-kind old time banjo is sure to be a collector’s item, and the only way to get it is through the raffle. Pisgah will deliver a detailed and notarized letter of authenticity with the banjo regarding the provenance of the recovered wood.
The winner will be announced on March 8 via Facebook Live.
This is a rare opportunity to both support the IBMA Foundation, and possibly obtain a banjo with a real back story.
More details can be found on the Pisgah Banjo Company web site, where you can hear a sample of the banjo being played.