Steve Martin Banjo Prize goes to Terry Baucom

The 2023 Steve Martin Banjo Prize, initiated by Martin in 2010 to bring recognition to worthy practitioners of the banjo, has been awarded to the late Terry Baucom. It had been hoped that it could be awarded to Terry while he was still with us, but such was not to be the case.

The annual prize is now administered by The Freshgrass Foundation, The Steve Martin Charitable Foundation, and Compass Records, who shared this brief message about Bauc.

Over the course of a 50-year career, Terry Baucom set the bar for bluegrass banjo players with his inimitable, hard-driving style. Nicknamed the “Duke of Drive” for the constancy of his timing, clean playing and clear tone, Baucom played with some of the most influential musicians in bluegrass and has helped to expand the possibilities for three-finger banjo.

In 1975, he co-founded the groundbreaking group Boone Creek with Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas. In 1979 he became a founding member of Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver and, in the early ’90s, he founded IIIrd Time Out. In 2023, Baucom received the Distinguished Achievement from the International Bluegrass Music Association for his contributions to the furtherance of bluegrass music. He was also a member of the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame and a mentor to aspiring musicians.

Sadly, Terry Baucom passed away on December 7 following a brief but debilitating illness, just days after receiving word that he had been selected as one of this year’s recipients.

We are told that Terry was a unanimous decision for the selection committee.

Also recognized with this year’s Steve Martin Banjo Prize is four string banjoist Cynthia Sayer.

The Prize describe her career as follows:

Multi-award-winning instrumentalist/vocalist/bandleader Cynthia Sayer is acclaimed by musicians, critics, and fans alike as the top four-string banjoist in the world today. Praised for her “drive and virtuosity” by The New York Times, Cynthia tours extensively with her bands and as a guest artist across four continents.

An inductee into the American Banjo Hall Of Fame, Sayer is the first four-string banjoist to appear on the cover of the Musician Union’s official publication, International Musician Magazine, in 2021, the first banjoist to win the 2019 Bistro Award and 2018 Global Music Awards, and in 2018 the first four-string jazz banjoist to be a featured artist at the iconic Newport Jazz Festival. She was a headliner at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Dresden International Jazz Festival (Germany), the Bloom Festival (China) and numerous others.

Cynthia rose to international prominence as a founding member of Woody Allen’s New Orleans Jazz Band, and has played with leading jazz, popular, and roots music artists including Bucky Pizzarelli, Dick Hyman, Andy Statman, Les Paul, Marvin Hamlisch, Wynton Marsalis, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, Vince Giordano, Scott Robinson, and many others.

Sayer has appeared as a guest and performer CBS, FOX, and ABC network television, on NPR’s Piano Jazz, and elsewhere. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, DownBeat, Fretboard Journal, People Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and countless other local, trade, and foreign media outlets.

Cynthia has performed with various orchestras, including The New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, has played at The White House, and is proud to be the subject of a Trivial Pursuit question. Her newest project, The Unexpected Journey Of Jazz Banjo, enjoyed a successful debut at Lincoln Center. The Banjo Experience, currently in development, will be at Lincoln Center in 2024.

Filmed for PBS TV’s Give Me The Banjo, Cynthia can also be heard on banjo, ukulele, piano, tenor guitar, and voice on feature film, TV and commercial soundtracks. Her nine feature albums have received rave reviews and multiple “Best of” nominations and awards in various categories.

Cynthia Sayer is also an avid educator. She has been a guest clinician at The Berklee College Of Music, The New School and others, given multiple educational programs at Lincoln Center, in public schools, and more. She’s on the faculty of the NY Hot Jazz Camp, gives lessons and workshops. Her play-along program, You’re IN The Band, is popular with players of all instruments learning and practicing traditional/hot jazz and swing. Her newest book for banjo, guitar and mandolin, The Swinging Solos Of Elmer Snowden, was published in 2022.

Cynthia lives in New York City and endorses Ome Banjos, GHS Strings, Blue Chip Picks, and The Realist Banjo Pickups by David Gage.

The 2023 awards were presented in a video hosted on Deering Live.

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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.