The Banjo Project documentary on PBS

The Banjo Project documentary is to be aired November 4, as part of the PBS Arts from the Blue Ridge Mountains series. Give Me the Banjo, an 80-minute film narrated by Steve Martin, will be one episode in the new mini-series, Arts Fall Festival, scheduled for national prime-time broadcast.

The history of the banjo has occupied many fine minds, most notably Karen Linn who, in her book That Half-Barbaric Twang, assessed the role of the banjo in American popular culture; and more recently Tony Trischka with his CD, World Turning, and Bela Fleck, who for his own documentary, Throw Down Your Heart, went to Africa in search of the origins of the banjo, to mention three examples.

Give Me the Banjo is the first major work stemming from efforts by Marc Fields to research and document the history of the banjo, the culmination of eight year’s work. Fields, the film’s writer, producer, and director, is a five-time regional Emmy winner, including one for his jazz documentary, Willie the Lion. He has been assisted by banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka, the Project’s Music Director.

Jointly, they set up The Banjo Project, which they describe as…

“…a cross-media cultural odyssey: a major television documentary, a live stage/multi-media performance, and a website that chronicle the journey of America’s quintessential instrument—the banjo—from its African roots to the 21st century”.

Participating in the film are Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Bela Fleck, Mike Seeger, Pete Seeger, Taj Mahal, Don Vappie and Cynthia Sayer, among many others, who, with folklorists, historians, luthiers and some passionately enthusiastic amateurs, tell the story of America’s instrument in all its richness and diversity.

The 82-minute film has been pared-down from over 400 hours of footage developed during almost a decade of production. Fields and Trischka have negotiated a home video deal with New Video, with an April 2012 release date planned, and much of the material that couldn’t be included in the PBS program will be included in the DVD and posted on The Banjo Project website.

Fields is naturally enthusiastic about the PBS airing.

“This is the kind of national prime time showcase that the banjo deserves. Without the participation and support of so many in the roots music community, we wouldn’t have been able to create the program, and the buzz that PBS has picked up on.”

Here’s a look at the Give Me the Banjo trailer:

The documentary is to be aired at 9:00 p.m. (EDT) on PBS stations across the US, November 4.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.