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America's Instrument: The Banjo in the Ninteenth Century
This handsome illustrated history traces the transformation of the banjo from primitive folk instrument to sophisticated musical machine and, in the process, offers a unique view of the music business in nineteenth-century America.
Philip Gura and James Bollman chart the evolution of "America's instrument," the five-stringed banjo, from its origins in the gourd instruments of enslaved Africans brought to the New World in the seventeenth century through its rise to the very pinnacle of American popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century. Throughout, they look at how banjo craftsmen and manufacturers developed, built, and marketed their products to an American public immersed in the production and consumption of popular music.
With over 250 illustrations—including rare period photographs, minstrel broadsides, sheet music covers, and banjo tutors and tune books— America's Instrument brings to life a fascinating aspect of American cultural history.
A must for those interested in the banjo's early history.
By Robert F. DeVellis
- October 16, 1999
This is a great book for anyone interested in banjo history. It's well-written, authoritative, and loaded with wonderful illustrations. Even the physical construction of the book is outstanding. I had a copy on order before it was published, based on the strength of other publications of Jim Bollman's related to turn-of-the-century Vega banjos. I met Jim at his shop, The Music Emporium, in Massachusetts a while back. He told me about the book.The book doesn't deal (other than a brief mention) with the later emergence of the 5-string banjo as the backbone of bluegrass music and the banjos pictured are all pre-war - WW I, that is. As the title suggests, it focuses on the earlier period of the prototypic banjos brought to America by African slaves, the evolution of those instruments during the minstrel era into the four-long-strings and one-short-string format that we all recognize, and their further evolution into technologically sophisticated and culturally refined... read more
An Important book but not what you think it is.
By Tony Thomas
- April 6, 2004
If you buy this book because the title might indicate it is an overall look at the banjo, its playing, its musics, and its place in society, that is not what this book is or pretends to be. This is a history of the physical development of the banjo and its construction and manufacture during the 19th Century. There are some small references to the different musics the instrument was used for, but not many. There is elaborate and detailed discussion of the main lines of construction of the banjos during this period. The authors also write well and thoroughly about the business dynamics of the chief producers
of the banjo during the 19th Century. While this book is obviously the work of two of leading banjo collectors in the world and of interest to banjoists and instrument makers of all kinds, it is an important picture of America social and economic history as well. Someone interested in the rise and development of capitalist industry, fetishism of "the finer things... read more
Another "must have" for vintage banjo lovers and collectors
By Hank Schwartz "banjo & SciFi"
- March 16, 2000
At last, another important book has emerged to stand with the few other necessary references on early American 5-string banjos.Unlike the two fine Tsumura books which are primarily photographic essays of considerable magnitude, Gura and Bollman's treatise combines a highly readable and informed history with a remarkable collection of rare antique photographs and ephemera plus 4 lengthy sections of recent photographs of exquisite instruments and banjo related objects. Any one of these three aspects would be sufficient reason to own the book.The frequently startling and personal photographs impart a very human feeling as we progress through the story of the evolution of the banjo in American culture. Amazingly, they represent just a minor fraction of Jim Bollman's immense collection.Special praise is due Peter Szego for his magnificent photographs of the wonderful early banjos from his own collection.I find it hard to remain objective as I turn the pages and... read more
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