The Banjo Project: A Digital Museum

Stories of America’s Quintessential Instrument



“Music is like the front porch of a culture. It is often where people first look and see each other.” — Harry Belafonte

If the banjo is arguably our front porch instrument, then The Banjo Project is our digital front porch, where people can see each other anew within the rich history of America’s quintessential instrument. (Under construction at http://banjo.emerson.edu/ ) Brought to the New World by enslaved Africans, the banjo is the product of three centuries of cultural exchanges, appropriations and face-to-face interactions, traveling between the margins and the mainstream. It has shaped many American and transnational musical idioms: Caribbean styles, the minstrel show, ragtime and early jazz, blues, oldtime, bluegrass, the folk revival, country and world. Its rich and contested history highlights lingering conflicts — race, gender, class, region, and folk vs. pop — still at the heart of American society today. “The banjo is at the root of roots music,” folklorist Joe Wilson told us. “It’s embedded. It goes to the bone.”

We’re planning to launch The Banjo Project’s digital museum in June 2019 if we can raise the funding for the final stages of production, editing and licensing. Our digital museum is still under construction – here’s a quick tour of what’s to come:

Sample landing page: http://banjo.emerson.edu/
Sample Narratives page: http://banjo.emerson.edu/narratives
Sample Players page: http://banjo.emerson.edu/players/earl-scruggs
Sample Timeline marker: http://banjo.emerson.edu/timelines/stewart-champion

WHAT IS A DIGITAL MUSEUM? Built on a searchable archive of over 300 hours of original media, archival footage, stills and recordings, The Banjo Project is an online cultural resource center devoted to the instrument’s colorful and complicated history, combining interactive documentary, up-to-date research and curated content. It will also serve as the hub for a consortium of partner institutions, scholars and collectors, providing them with portals to showcase related content. When the diverse styles and purveyors of banjo music are placed in their historical context, users become a community of storytellers building narratives around the banjo that overcome boundaries of race, culture, class, region and gender. Hearing the music is just the first step in an odyssey spanning three centuries of trans-Atlantic culture.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: In 2011, private backers and PBS funding made it possible to complete the feature-length documentary Give Me the Banjo, which aired on national PBS and was seen by millions. But the TV documentary could only tell part of the story. The Banjo Project digital museum will make it possible for users to discover for themselves many different stories, in many different ways — the known, the hidden and the unexpected.

Every contribution is tax-deductible as a donation to The Center for Independent Documentary, the 501c3 fiscal sponsor for The Banjo Project since 2002. Join The Banjo Project community on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/thebanjoproject for the latest clips from interviews and performances, and view more content at http://banjo.emerson.edu/ .

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