Cover image for America's instrument : the banjo in the nineteenth century
America's instrument : the banjo in the nineteenth century
Gura, Philip F., 1950-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 303 pages, 80 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), music ; 29 cm
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML1015.B3 G87 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize
ML1015.B3 G87 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize Non-Circ

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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.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Bollman's collecting passion is material on historic banjo manufacture and marketingÄhe houses over 300 instruments, thousands of photographs, numerous patents, trade catalogs, ads, sheet music covers, periodicals, and banjo-themed "realia" in his Boston-area home. For this book, he shared his vast knowledge of banjo history with cultural historian Gura (English/American studies, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), who augmented his research using other public and private collections. Thus, academic scholarship and collecting enthusiasm have combined to produce a responsible, entertaining overview of the banjo as an artifact of 19th-century American culture, one that crossed racial, economic, and stylistic lines and had a real effect on later musical developments, especially ragtime. Recommended for large American music and popular culture collections.ÄBonnie Jo Dopp, Univ. of Maryland Lib., Coll. Park (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Gura (English and American studies, Univ. of North Carolina) and Bollman (banjo dealer and collector) collaborated to produce this handsome, elaborate, and detailed history. Beginning with the banjo's African and plantation origins, the authors explore the instrument's central role in minstrel shows and working-class culture. By the mid-19th century, the banjo had become more commercial and accepted in polite society, and Gura and Bollman focus on the manufacturers who continued to refine the banjo's design and tone in their search for expanding markets, particularly manufacturers Henry Dobson, S.S. Stewart, A.C. Fairbanks, and William Cole. By the dawn of the 20th century, the five-string banjo had reached its apogee; the four-string jazz instrument was soon to replace it in popularity. America's Instrument is rich in text, and even richer for its numerous illustrations, many in full color, a grand feast for the eyes. Highly recommended and a fitting companion to the chronologically broader studies by Karen Linn, That Half-Barbaric Twang (CH, Feb'92), and Cecelia Conway, African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia (CH, May'96). Upper-division undergraduates through professionals; general collections. R. D. Cohen; Indiana University Northwest

Table of Contents

A Note on Early Photography
1 From the Plantation to the Stage: Bringing the Banjo to Market
2 An Expanding Market: The Dobson Brothers and the Rise of Banjo Culture
3 Selling the Banjo to All America: Philadelphia's S. S. Stewart
4 Manufacturing the Real Thing: Fairbanks, Cole, and the Golden Age of Boston Banjo Making
Selected Bibliography
Selections of color illustrations follow pages