A fine banjo film!

Yesterday, after following up on an assortment of leads, I happened across a website named Folkstreams.net.  This website is truly a web treasure.  It contains dozens of documentary films related to folklore, including a lot of music-related pictures.  It’s a great site to watch a broad spectrum of films, some made more than 50 years ago, along with many wonderful contemporary studies.  There is  no charge, except for your time and attention.

Frank Proffitt banjo

One 30-minute film  I enjoyed greatly was “Banjo Spirits
[ John Paulson, 1998, http://www.folkstreams.net/film,183 ],
featuring Stephen Wade and one of my all-time favorites, Don Stover.   Don shows off some fine banjo playing, as does Stephen Ward, who also conducts us on a mini-tour behind the scenes at the Smithsonian Institute, for a look at a whole room full of historic banjos, some dating back to the early nineteenth century.  Take a look at the film when you get a chance, and let me know what you think.


PS – One minor note.   In the film, Don retells the story of a man, Joel Sweeny, and the “invention” of the banjo fifth string.  Don has got the Joel Walker Sweeny story a little off.

Sweeny was a big-time promoter – of himself. His story of adding the 5th string is pure fabrication, since banjos in the mid 19th century had various numbers of strings, from 3 to 7+. Certainly the so-called “fifth string” or thumb string was not Sweeny’s idea: they had been used long before, and really come from their use on several instruments in Central Asia – the Middle and Far East. For example, that shortened string is called the “Chikari” string in India, and is used to help set the mode on the tune being played. When banjos were adapted to be used in city music (as mainly rhythm instruments, to provide chords and compete with the horn section, since acoustic guitars lacked the necessary volume), that shortened string was *removed* to enable the banjoist to modulate keys, which is never done in eastern music – or in the older forms of rural music in the USA.

About Peter Feldmann

Peter Feldmann has long been a musical mainstay in Santa Barbara and Southern California. Besides actively performing bluegrass and old time music with a variety of groups, Peter is also known as a bluegrass historian, collector, music consultant, teacher, and producer, both of live concerts and radio/tv programs throughout the area. His music has been heard in clubs, concerts, saloons, universities, pre-schools, at weddings, wakes, parties, barn-raisings, calf-ropings, rodeos, auctions, fund raisers, wine tastings and chili cook offs. Peter founded Santa Barbara's Old Time Fiddler's Convention (1972), UCSB's Old Time Music Front (1964), and The Bluebird Cafe (1971). Through these and other outlets, he was the first to bring many prominent folk, blues, and bluegrass artists, including Bill Monroe, Mance Lipscomb, The Stanley Brothers, The New Lost City Ramblers, Fred McDowell, Furry Lewis, Rose Maddox, the Balfa Brothers, and many others to the Santa Barbara area. Peter also helped others access the music by teaching privately, and in group classes for Santa Barbara Continuing Education, UCSB Extension, and McCabes Guitars. He was the first on the West Coast to produce and market instruction Lps - three on How To Play Country Fiddle, and one each on Clawhammer Banjo, and Maybelle Carter Style Guitar. He still presents lectures on country music history at UCSB, Santa Barbara area libraries, and for various interest groups, festival workshops, etc. In 2006, he presented his monograph titled "The Big bang Of Bluegrass Music" (describing the origins of bluegrass 1938 - 1946) to the worlds first International Music Symposium at the University of Kentucky at Bowling Green. He has also been very active in radio, television, and film work, producing weekly shows on country and bluegrass music over a 21 year period on various commercial and public stations. Peter currently maintains three music-related websites, a music blog, and an entertainment service company, "BlueGrass West!", based in the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. Peter performs tunes and songs from the heart of America's musical treasure chest. His shows can include fiddle, guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Well-known as a historian and teacher, Peter is first and foremost an entertainer, sharing his respect, energy and love for the music with his fellow musicians, friends, and audiences.
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