Publication Date: 04/11/2022 ISBN: 9780393866803 Category:

Well of Souls

Kristina R. Gaddy, Rhiannon Giddens

Publisher: WW Norton & Co
Publication Date: 04/11/2022 ISBN: 9780393866803 Category:


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In an extraordinary story unfolding across two hundred years, Kristina Gaddy uncovers the banjo’s key role in Black spirituality, ritual and rebellion. Through meticulous research in diaries, letters, archives and art, she traces the banjo’s beginnings from the seventeenth century, when enslaved people of African descent created it from gourds or calabashes and wood. Gaddy shows how the enslaved carried this unique instrument as they were transported and sold by slaveowners throughout the Americas, to Suriname, the Caribbean and the colonies that became US states, including Louisiana, South Carolina, Maryland and New York.

African Americans came together at rituals where the banjo played an essential part. White governments, rightfully afraid that the gatherings could instigate revolt, outlawed them without success. In the mid-nineteenth century, Blackface minstrels appropriated the instrument for their bands, spawning a craze. Eventually the banjo became part of jazz, bluegrass and country, its deepest history forgotten.

Publisher Review

"For the very first time, a reader's version of a few of the earliest written observations of the instrument are on full display in the thoughtful and masterful writing of this book. This book is not only made for the banjo enthusiast but it opens a new window into 17th, 18th and 19th century world history on the ground level by those who lived it and observed the strange new cultural connections brought by a brutal plantation system.[...] Kristina Gaddy's observations lead the reader back into the 21st century to contend and reanalyze the crooked road of America's musical past." -- Dom Flemons, the American songster and Grammy Award-winning musician

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