Steve Martin Banjo Prize partners with FreshGrass and Compass

The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music has for the past ten years awarded a grant of $50,000 annually to a prominent 5 string banjoist which Steve and his Board of Directors have selected. The first winner was Noam Pikelny, with other honorees including Sammy Shelor, Scott Vestal, Jens Kruger, Rhiannon Giddens, Kristin Scott Benson, and Victor Furtado.

Martin’s initial vision for this award was to present it from 2010 through 2019, and funded the prize himself trough his own charitable foundation. Now that the first decade is completed, Martin has been looking for new partners to keep this endeavor going into the future. And he has found them in the Freshgrass Foundation and Compass Records Group. The Freshgrass Foundation is a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to preserving and promoting American roots music, and Compass Records is the label founded and managed by banjo icon Alison Brown and her husband, Garry West.

Under this new management Steve will remain as Chairman Emeritus, with both Freshgrass and Compass taking seats on the Board. Other members include founding Directors Béla Fleck, Noam Pikelny, Tony Trischka, Pete Wernick, Alison Brown, and Anne Stringfield, along with Jamie Deering, Johnny Baier, Paul Schiminger, Roger Brown, Dom Flemons, Kristin Scott Benson, plus Chris Wadsworth of Freshgrass and Garry West from Compass.

Going forward, the award will be known simply as the Steve Martin Banjo Prize, with a grant of $25,000 to one of more banjo artists each year. But it will no longer be limited to bluegrass and the five string. Banjo players in any style are eligible, and the Board intends to honor important contributors from all areas of banjodom.

Martin says that he is overjoyed that this honor for banjo players can live on beyond his initial contribution.

“I’m doing a handstand thinking that the prize will continue on. Thanks to Freshgrass and Compass Records for bringing such enthusiasm into the prize.”

The 2020 award will be announced at the end of September, during the time when the FreshGrass Festival would normally be held. It is cancelled this year owing to the COVID19 shutdowns. Five players will share a $50,000 award this year, in response to the serious difficulties being faced by artists in every genre since state governors have prohibited or severely limited live performances.

Wadsworth is likewise delighted to see Freshgrass come onboard.

“Freshgrass is thrilled and honored to play a part in this next iteration of the Steve Martin Banjo Prize. As a 501(C)3 whose mission is to preserve, support and create innovative grassroots music, we can’t think of a better way to fulfill our mission than to assist in carrying on the amazingly generous and cool tradition that is the Steve Martin Banjo Prize.”

Full details about the new Steve Martin Banjo Prize can be found online. A complete list of previous winners is available on Steve’s 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.