Do you know what this is?

Yep, it’s a banjo.

Believe it or not, learning a little about this instrument can change how you see the world around you.

And you’re about to learn it from Grammy award winning musician Rhiannon Giddens.

Part 1:
A Surprising Discovery

“I made this huge discovery that shook my world.”

My name is Rhiannon Giddens and I’m an activist, a musician, and an amateur historian.

When I was younger, the banjo held a very specific place in sort of how I looked at the world, a very similar place to, I’d say a majority of Americans.

The banjo is an Appalachian thing. It was a mountain thing, poor white people played it. It often was used to indicate humor. Steve Martin used it as a comedic prop,

I’ve watched Hee Haw, Roy Clark playing the banjo every Saturday night. This is just how I thought of it.

I had gone to college in the North and I came back home to North Carolina. And then, I kind of made this huge discovery that sort of shook my world.

When you picture the banjo, what associations come to mind? For instance, who do you picture playing it? What kind of music are they playing? 

Check Your Perspective

Now look at these images — which one most accurately reflects what came to mind for you?
Keep your initial impression of the banjo in mind while Rhiannon shares what she discovered about it.

“I started becoming obsessed with the banjo.”

I started becoming obsessed with the banjo.

And I started discovering these recordings of black people playing banjos

I found out that the banjo is actually an African-American instrument. And my mind was completely blown.

it was a really big moment for me. And one that I think will never lose its power to make me remember how surprised I was

I started digging into the history. And what I found out was there’s a whole class of American music that’s been completely forgotten.

This was just the first in a series of discoveries Rhiannon would make about the banjo.
Join her on a journey to uncover the instrument’s hidden history, and see how digging into the past changed her perspective.
You may just find that your perspective changes too.

Continue to Part 2

The Banjo’s Roots