The Banjo is a very popular instrument, and it's popularity is currently growing rapidly. However, there's a convoluted and misconstrued history of this instrument. On today's episode of Jack Dappa Blues Podcast, I speak with Tony Thomas,  African American Banjo Scholar, about the history, origins and commercial explosion of the Banjo.

Along with Sule Greg Wilson and Cece Conway, Tony Thomas organized the 2005 Black Banjo Gathering that launched the contemporary Black Banjo revival.  

In 2013, “Why African Americans Put the Banjo Down,” Thomas’s contribution to Duke University Press’s Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music became the first scholarly essay on the banjo by an African America to be published.  In 2018 his chapter, "Gus Cannon--'The Colored Champion Banjo Pugilist of the World' and the Big World of the Banjo," appeared in Banjo Roots and Branches, published by Duke University Press, the first scholarly anthology on the banjo. 

Tony Thomas’s “The Banjo and African American Musical Culture", published online in 2014 by African American National Biography, a joint project of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University and Oxford University Press. It follows Thomas’s earlier contributions to African American National Biography on African American fiddler Joe Thompson and on the legend of the 19th century banjo figure Picayune Butler. 

Thomas was one of the advisors to the Marc Fields PBS Film Give Me the Banjo in which he appears. He was also an adviser to and appears in Jim Carrier’s film The Librarian and the Banjo.

Tony Thomas has presented many times at the Banjo Collectors Gathering, the central banjo history event, and at banjo camps, and at other old-time music, folk, and blues events the United States and Europe.  He has also performed as a vocalist, banjoist, and guitarist as a solo artist for many years and with New York’s Ebony Hillbillies.

Tony Thomas was born in New York City in 1947, lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree from Florida International University.  

Here are links to his writing and presentations - 

Why Black Banjo:

The Black Banjo List Serve 

Tony Thomas presentation to the Banjo Collectors Gathering 2015 

US Slave: About the Banjo

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