Clawgrass Master is 3rd Recipient of Steve Martin Award!

Mark JohnsonBanjo player Mark Johnson has been named the third annual recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass.

The former semi-professional fiddler receives $50,000 in prize money and he'll also join Martin on The Late Show with David Letterman on Monday night (September 24, 2012).

Martin's annual award recognizes an individual or group for "outstanding accomplishments in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music".

Johnson is the first clawhammer player to receive the award. The two previous recipients (Sammy Shelor, Lonesome River Band, 2011) and (Noam Pikelny, 2010) favored the three-fingered style picking or Scruggs style - named after banjo legend Earl Scruggs.

A native of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., Mark now hangs his hat in Florida but learned his trade from Jay Unger while living in New York. Mark didn't know that Jay was a highly accomplished fiddler who also tinkered with the clawhammer style of banjo. It was in the early 1970s, that Mark learned from this consummate fiddler the basic technique of clawhammer banjo. He also learned the three-finger style of bluegrass picking as his familiarity with the instrument unfolded.

Mark's unique style doesn't really fit into a strict category. It's very bluegrass but has overtones of traditional folk, progressive acoustic, new-grass and old-timey all mixed into one. It's authentic. It's unique. that’s why Mark brands it Clawgrass.

The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass provides the winner with a cash prize of $50,000 and a bronze sculpture. The award was created to bring recognition to an individual or group for outstanding accomplishment in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music.
Besides Martin and his wife Anne Stringfield, historian Neil V. Rosenberg and the banjo players J.D. Crowe, Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka, Alison Brown, and Béla Fleck determine the recipient.

This year's winner lives in Bronson, Fla., where he is the director of Levy County's emergency operations. He moved to Florida in 1981 where he learned bluegrass from Tony, Larry, Ronnie and Wyatt Rice. Johnson performs on weekends and holidays.


Image634840678614763547MARK JOHNSON and EMORY LESTER have long been revered as roots music “super pickers” with their own takes on traditional fiddle tunes, British Isle ballads and original compositions. Johnson, creator of the “Clawgrass” Style Banjo and one of the finest banjo stylists in the world and Lester, a mandolin master and guitar great, have combined their talents to perform as a duet. Together they deliver powerful performances that will excite any audience, touch every listener, and create a memorable experience leaving audiences asking for more and more.

Their latest release, Acoustic Vision, completes the “trilogy” of the earlier, critically acclaimed CD ‘Acoustic Campaign’ and ‘Acoustic Rising’, on the Crossroads/Mountain Home label, was nominated for the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) “Instrumental Album of the Year” award at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee in 2007.

In addition to live performances, Mark and Emory also provide masters workshops on Clawhammer banjo (showcasing Mark’s distinctive ‘Clawgrass’ style) and Emory’s distinctive Mandolin and Guitar approach. They have taught throughout the United States at various festivals, music stores, special events and music schools to all levels of players.

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