I did a brief article to summarize the history of the Banjo a while back – here is the last in this series.
The years between about 1910 and 1945 saw a sea-change in society and culture, begun in the post-victorian days of the late 1800s. Central to musical expression was the question: ‘What shall we do with our roots?’ Thus was the birth of the blues and jazz. This brought the 4-string banjos, tenor and plectrum to the forefront of popular music. The 5-string banjo was almost forgotten.
1945 was a year that bluegrass banjo pickers will always remember. That’s the year Earl Scruggs, newly joined to Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys, would introduce the world to Scruggs style banjo playing at the Grand ‘Ol Opry. Three-finger Scruggs style was ripe for exposure to the world by this time; some players were already adopting this style, especially around the area of North Carolina where Earl was from. Earl Scruggs was the first to bring it to a national audience, hence its name.
Since that day in 1945, banjoists have continued to improve and innovate stylistic changes in the banjos’ repertoire. Although Scruggs style continues to dominate on the 5-string, others have contributed much to further development of techniques. Don Reno gave us Reno style with its single string techniques; Bobby Thompson and Bill Keith independently introduced melodic style in the 60’s. And so styles of playing the banjo continue to advance and improve.