Victor Furtado wins 2019 Steve Martin Banjo Prize

Victor Furtado at The Prism Coffehouse (left) – photo © Gary Alter

Victor Furtado, a fresh, contemporary clawhammer banjoist, has been awarded the 2019 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. At 19, Victor is the youngest recipient of this honor, chosen each year since 2010 by Steve Martin and the Board of Directors of his prize, to highlight exceptional banjo performers in modern music. 

One might be tempted to question the notion that someone this young could possibly earn such recognition, but just wait until you hear him play. He has had the reputation of enfant terrible among close followers of old time banjo, in much the same way that Béla Fleck was spoken of as a teen prior to his debut Rounder album in 1979. Furtado has made a number of recordings in his teens, won and judged in prestigious banjo competitions, and performed at major festivals across the country.

Yes, Victor is really that good, with an unorthodox playing style that brings downstroke banjo into today’s au-courant acoustic music. It really is quite radical, especially compared to the more staid approach followed by traditional old time musicians. Furtado plays quite aggressively, with no inhibition, and is shaking up the world of clawhammer banjo like none before.

Currently in his second year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Victor has followed a familiar path as a string prodigy. He is the youngest child in a very musical family. He has two older sisters pursuing careers in bluegrass (Malia and Gina), and the whole family was raised in a unschooled environment, exposed regularly to the arts since birth.

In addition to school, he performs as a member of The Wildmans, recently signed to Travianna Records, a new-age old time group driven by his aggressive banjo playing.

Busy right now with school, Victor has promised to do an interview in the next few days to tell more of his story, and his reaction to being notified of this award, which includes an unrestricted $50,000 honorarium. Look for that interview next week.

Previous winners of the Steve Martin Prize include Noam Pikelny, Sammy Shelor, Kristin Scott Benson, and Scott Vestal.

Congratulations Victor Furtado!

Share this:

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.