American Banjo Museum Celebrates History of the Banjo in Downtown Oklahoma City

Image634638659051194819A fter the recent PBS Documentary on the Banjo narrated by the banjo’s most notable ambassador of late, Steve Martin, interest in the 5-string musical instrument has taken hold. One museum you may not be aware of yet is the American Banjo Museum in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting the music and heritage of the banjo, and it claims to house the largest collection of banjos on public display in the world.
A three-dimensional multimedia presentation begins the self-guided tour which takes visitors through 370 years of banjo history, from its roots in Africa to its current roles in bluegrass, folk and world music.

In the “Banjo Evolution” exhibit, five vastly different banjos illustrate the physical evolution of the instrument from a handmade gourd affair of the mid 1600s to the five-string models bluegrass fans will recognize.
“Banjo Heroes” presents six important individuals in banjo history, from Joel Walker Sweeney of the 1840s to Bela Fleck. “The Gibson Story” combines two dozen instruments with video and audio to tell the story of the iconic banjo manufacturer. 

Memorable banjo moments form Hollywood feature films may be savored in “The Banjo Goes Hollywood.” Visitors can check out the decorative craftsmanship of the 1920s-‘30s at “The Art of the Banjo” exhibit, featuring instruments that incorporate exotic woods, ivory and mother-of-pearl inlay, jewels, hand carvings and paintings.
In addition to Scruggs and Fleck, J.D. Crowe, Ralph Stanley, Sonny Osborne and Steve Martin are included in photos, text or audio in the banjo history exhibits on the first floor of the museum. “The core of our collection consists of highly decorated 1920s-‘30s instruments,” says museum director Johnny Baier, a banjo player himself. “The Gibson Exhibit on the first floor will be of great interest to bluegrass fans.”

The current facility opened its doors in September 2009, but the original banjo museum was started in 1998 in Guthrie, Okla. by “people who were purists for the four-string banjo,”

The first floor endeavors to cover the broad spectrum of banjo history and evolution, and then on the second floor visitors are overwhelmed by the jazz banjo presence.”

The American Banjo Museum is interested in traveling exhibits. In fact, a new exhibit currently being designed in California which honors The Kingston Trio is slated to open in Oklahoma City in the fall of 2013. Performance space is limited, but the museum staff is always eager to hear from banjo players and bluegrass fans traveling through Oklahoma City.

The American Banjo Museum is accessible to all, with discounts for seniors and military. It’s locates at 9 East Sheridan, Oklahoma City. For more info, call 405-604-2793, email info@banjomuseum.org or visit www.americanbanjomuseum.org.

Excerpted from the IBMA Newsletter.  Read the Full Story Here.

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