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March 23, 2005

Black Banjo Conference May Revive Waning Musical Tradition

BOONE – Banjo players, scholars, lovers of the banjo and of traditional and contemporary African American music and culture will meet April 7-10 at Appalachian State University for the first Black Banjo Then and Now Gathering.

The gathering will feature lectures, music jams, workshops and performances.

An opening reception will be held April 7 at the Appalachian Cultural Museum. Lectures will be held in Plemmons Student Union. For a schedule of events, visit http://www.rhisong.com/blackbanjo/schedule.html.

Cost for those attending the entire conference is $90 for nonstudents and $50 for students. Cost for those attending the gathering on April 9 and 10 only is $65 for nonstudents and $35 for students. Anyone with an Appalachian I.D. will be admitted free to the daytime presentations and lectures. Tickets to the April 8 and 9 concerts are $15 for nonstudents and $5 for students.

A limited number of tickets to concerts on April 8 and 9 at Legends will be available at the door.

To register for the gathering, visit https://ssl1.appstate.edu/confinst/blackbanjo.php.

The conference is sponsored by the online group Black Banjo: Then and Now (BBT&N) founded last March to create awareness that banjo playing come out of the African experience, to support contemporary Black banjo players, to celebrate the banjo's place in Black music and culture, and to highlight the banjo's role in cultural exchange.

Africans brought the banjo to the Americas. In the mid-19th century, the instrument became popular among European Americans. African American banjo playing has continued to this day in traditional, classic, jazz, blues, and folk styles.

“We want to talk about the banjo from the African American perspective: how does it relate to our lives in 2005, in terms of making black music,” said Tony Thomas, one of the organizers of the conference.

Joan Dickerson of the University of Pittsburgh will demonstrate the classical banjo style popular during the early 20th century. Cece Conway, a folklorist who teaches at Appalachian, will present her research on the African-American influences in Appalachian music. Banjo player and Appalachian studies student Mark Freed will also participate in the event. Freed leads the Appalachian Heritage Council at Appalachian and helped organize the conference.

Other participants are New Lost City founder Mike Seeger and African American fiddler Joe Thompson, Mali musician Cheik Hamala Diabate, Senegambian akonting player Daniel Jatta, and Etta Baker and Algia Mae Hinton, who are known for their mastery of Piedmont blues.

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