Some Banjo History

Posted on: May 9th, 2005 1:17 AM GMT

Topic: music, banjo, history

Today I happened across some interesting reads about the history of the banjo. Evidently the banjo originated out of the mists of time in Africa, and was spread through Europe and America via the slave trade.

Accounts from as early as 1620 describe Africans as playing instruments made of gourds stretched with animal skin, with anywhere from two to six strings. Necks were fretless. Early names for this class of instrument were "banjar", "banjil", "banza", "bangoe", "bangie", "banshaw", from which we of course get "banjo".

It wasn't until the late 1800s that the instrument began to evolve into its current, drumlike form. The origins of the short string seem unclear, except that it definitely wasn't invented by the 1800s minstrel performer Joel Walker Sweeney as some early manufacturers claimed. I suppose the origins of the short string are also lost in the distant African past.

edit: The gourd banjo website also has some mp3s you can listen to of gourd banjos. They're a little more earthy and mellow sounding.

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