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The Banjo: Music, History, and Heritage

Open your eyes and ears to the rich—and surprising—cross-cultural history of the banjo with GRAMMY®-Award winning artist, Rhiannon Giddens.
The Banjo: Music, History, and Heritage is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 31.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from Rubbish! This course is very disappointing, it is a run-on sentence of a 'just so' story, few facts, mostly speculation & opinion, Lacking any true scholarship. Sorry, I like the premise but not the execution.
Date published: 2024-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from cool and smooth Even if you are not musical , this course is a rich history of folk music in America. The instructor is great in presenting facts ,setting and examples without any bias or prejudice. Not a how to play course. Sit back and enjoy.
Date published: 2023-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I'm playing Banjo again! Rhiannon Giddens is a wonderful Musician and Scholar, equally important in both areas. Her playing and her lecturing are both superb. She is not afraid to talk about both the good and the bad in the relationship between African-Americans and American music. I'm trying to play a Banjar now (Banjo tuned and strung like a guitar). Seeing and hearing her play made me realize there are a lot of ways the Banjo can sound, and a lot of freedom in how to play it. I'm so grateful this course exists.
Date published: 2023-08-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from My First Great Courses Disappointment This "course" is a sharp departure from the previous 89 Great Courses that I have purchased and enjoyed. It includes no documentation at all, and the lectures are not titled and indexed on the DVD as I had expected; the length of the lectures is not provided. Without a guide book, there is, of course, no supplementary reading or suggestions for further study. This offering is much more like a PBS TV special, with casual, repetitive, vernacular verbalizing, and, unfortunately, a strained effort to draw racial and political significance where none is appropriate. There is some educational value here, scattered among the entertainment, but this "course" is not, in my opinion, to be confused with and offered alongside the Great Courses of the past.
Date published: 2023-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable and informative As a long-time fan of banjo music, I was already familiar with Rhiannon Giddens and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. When I noticed that she had produced a course about the banjo for The Great Courses, I immediately ordered it. Ms. Giddens is an extremely articulate speaker with lively and riveting stage presence. As she discusses the history and culture behind the banjo, she introduces a generous amount of music to illustrate her points. Most of the examples involve the open-back banjo played in the old-time frailing style, but she also includes the much heavier bluegrass banjo with resonator that people often associate with players like Earl Scruggs. This is a very enjoyable and informative course. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2023-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating, Highly Informative, Mind Opening This is one of the best Great Courses I have watched. I wasn’t particularly interested in the banjo before this course. However, I enjoy learning new things. So, out of curiosity, I watched the trailer for it, and became instantly interested in learning more. The teacher was excellent and deeply knowledgeable, as were the other experts appearing in the course. They really opened people’s eyes to the subject. For example, I don’t think most people realize the banjo originated in Africa and was such an important part of the African American experience for a great portion of this country’s history. They also talked about the importance of other group’s contributions to the development and evolution of the banjo (like the Irish), as it made its way around the world, over time. In addition, they showed how various group’s intersecting with the banjo caused them to be able to interact with each other, in ways that no other circumstance would have allowed at that time in U.S. history. This course contains these things, and much more. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2023-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant! Wonderful! Joyful! For All! I am the least musical person you could ever meet (really), and I hesitated to buy this course, but I am so glad I did! - A sheer joy, not to mention wonderful playing and - especially - exposure to a fascinating history of the instrument and the cultures it came from and those it affected. Ms. Giddens is outstanding in every way. My highest recommendation.
Date published: 2023-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspirational History Lesson I have been playing bluegrass and clawhammer banjo for a while now, but I never learned the complete history of this instrument. This course not only has filled in the gaps in my knowledge, it has also peaked my curiosity - and cost me money! Thanks to Rhiannon, I have bought 2 books on the history and tunes of the Minstrel banjo and 1 book of Irish tunes. Oh, and her amazing playing style has inspired me to keep practicing. I now patiently await her next Wondrium banjo course!
Date published: 2023-07-15
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Overview

In The Banjo: Music, History, and Heritage, you will explore the history of banjo music from African spirituals to jazz club standards to activist folk numbers. Taught by acclaimed musician and MacArthur grant recipient Rhiannon Giddens, the 10 jam-packed episodes take you across time and cultures to uncover the hidden history of a sonically rich American instrument.

About

Rhiannon Giddens

You have to live your life thinking about what you're going to be passing on. It can't stop with you. It has to continue on.

Rhiannon Giddens is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who cofounded the Carolina Chocolate Drops. For her work as a soloist and collaborator, she is a two-time Grammy Award winner and an eight-time nominee. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, and she also received a Legacy of Americana Award from Nashville’s National Museum of African American History and the Americana Music Association. Additionally, she is the artistic director of Silkroad and a member of the band Our Native Daughters. She obtained a bachelor of music degree in Vocal Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

By This Expert

The Banjo: Music, History, and Heritage
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The Banjo: Music, History, and Heritage

Trailer

Hearing the Banjo's Journey from Africa

01: Hearing the Banjo's Journey from Africa

Jump into the history of the banjo! As you will discover right away, there is much to learn about this versatile instrument—starting with its origins in Africa and its link to African American culture. Explore the anatomy of the “gourd banjo” and consider the cross-cultural conversation between African and European music.

24 min
The Banjo and the Fiddle Together

02: The Banjo and the Fiddle Together

Continue your exploration of the gourd banjo as an African instrument and see how music as an entertainment crosses racial lines. You will learn about the connection between the banjo and the fiddle as you dig into the old-time country music of the African American string-band musician Joe Thompson.

23 min
Minstrel Banjo

03: Minstrel Banjo

As musical and comedy entertainment, minstrel shows have left a scar across American history due to the legacy of blackface. Although difficult to study today, minstrel shows play an important part in the banjo’s history, as it was through these shows that the banjo became a mainstream instrument in America.

27 min
The Spiritual Roots of the Banjo

04: The Spiritual Roots of the Banjo

While we may think of the banjo as an instrument for entertainment, the buried history reveals it has powerful spiritual roots in African and Caribbean culture. Delve into the connection between religious symbols and the early banjo—and reflect on the complex processes of cultural appropriation.

24 min
The Banjo in Ragtime and Jazz

05: The Banjo in Ragtime and Jazz

The late 1800s and early 1900s saw an explosion in historical, cultural, social, and technological change, and this change paved the way for the great American art form of jazz. From ragtime to New Orleans jazz, examine how the banjo’s capabilities for syncopation earned the instrument a prominent spot in exciting new music.

22 min
The Irish Banjo

06: The Irish Banjo

While African American music was transitioning from minstrel shows to jazz clubs, Irish immigrants were bringing their own cultural experiences to America—and the banjo fit right in with the rhythms of traditional Celtic music. Meet some of the early figures of the Irish banjo, which has strong connections to Afro-Caribbean culture.

24 min
The Banjo's Evolution in Ireland

07: The Banjo's Evolution in Ireland

Just as music is always changing, the instruments we play also evolve. You’ll see how the gourd banjos transitioned and eventually led to the development of the tambourine. You’ll also study the evolution of technique, which included the development of American-style “cross-picking” popular in bluegrass today.

22 min
Migration, Music, and Commercialization

08: Migration, Music, and Commercialization

The banjo today is most strongly associated with bluegrass, and that’s because bluegrass elevated the banjo from a backing instrument to the star of the show. After surveying the rise of bluegrass with luminaries Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, dive into the cross-cultural exchange made possible by the banjo. Then see how Béla Fleck elevated and redefined the instrument yet again.

21 min
The Banjo in String Bands and Bluegrass

09: The Banjo in String Bands and Bluegrass

If African Americans invented the banjo, why did they stop playing it? Here, learn about the 20th century’s Great Migration, the birth of the recording industry, and the way banjos became associated with older, rural culture. Then, witness the rise of folk music, which tapped into rural working-class stringed instruments.

18 min
Banjo Revival and Our Collective Story

10: Banjo Revival and Our Collective Story

The folk revival gave renewed life to an old instrument, but the evolution of the banjo continues in the 21st century. Bands such as Mumford and Sons, Billy Strings, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops continue to reinvent what is possible with the banjo, remixing classic sounds for new audiences. The course ends with a look back—and a look forward.

23 min
Performance of

11: Performance of "Kitchen Girl" with Enda Scahill

Performance of "Kitchen Girl" with Enda Scahill

3 min
Performance of

12: Performance of "Old Corn Likker" with Justin Robinson

Performance of "Old Corn Likker" with Justin Robinson

3 min
Performance of

13: Performance of "Better Git Yer Learnin'"

Performance of "Better Git Yer Learnin'"

3 min