“Banjo! The All-American Instrument” Radio Program

I just found an archived radio program well worth checking out: the Illinois Humanities Council and WBEZ 91.5 radio website provide access to a lovely talk on the banjo and American folk music by banjo player mark Dvorak (Banjo! The All-American Instrument).

Dvorak begins with a clawhammer banjo medley of many of the best known folk songs and fiddle tunes from the American old-time repertoire. While the playing is in itself worth a listen, the real highlight is Dvorak’s informative lecture touching on all aspects of American folk music.

In the 70-minute program, Dvorak addresses the origins of American folk song, three major banjo styles, and musical figures such as songwriter Stephen Foster and banjo player Frank Proffitt in the contexts of American culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Focusing on the repertoire of folk music, he demonstrates the evolution of an old English folk song into the American standards “Mama Don’t Allow,” “Crawdad Song,” and finally, the Woody Guthrie industrial ballad “Pittsburgh Town.” Dvorak also tactfully relates the often grim stories behind such well-known folk songs as “Old Joe Clark,” “Oh Susanna,” and “Tom Dooley.”

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