The Banjo in a Southern Appalachian County
An intimate look at the role of the banjo in a long-standing, joyful musical tradition vital to the Appalachian region
The banjo has been emblematic of the Southern Appalachian Mountains since the late twentieth century. Making Music: The Banjo in a Southern Appalachian County takes a close look at the instrument and banjo players in Haywood County, North Carolina. Author William C. Allsbrook Jr., MD, presents the oral histories of thirty-two banjo players, all but two of whom were born in Haywood County. These talented musicians recount, in their own words, their earliest memories of music, and of the banjo, as well as the appeal of the banjo. They also discuss learning to play the instrument, including what it “feels like” playing the banjo, many describing occasional “flow states.”
In the book, Allsbrook explores an in-home musical folkway that developed along the colonial frontier. By the mid-1800s, frontier expansion had ceased in Haywood County due to geographic barriers, but the in-home musical tradition, including the banjo, survived in largely isolated areas. Vestiges of that tradition remain to this day, although the region has undergone significant changes over the lifetimes of the musicians interviewed. As a result, the survival of the in-home tradition is not guaranteed. Readers are invited into the private lives of the banjo players and asked to consider the future of the banjo in the face of contemporary trends. The future will be shaped by how this remarkable mountain culture continues to adapt to these challenges. Still, this thriving community of banjo players represents the vibrant legacy of the banjo in Haywood County and the persistence of tradition in the twenty-first century.
"Making Music is a wonderful, in-depth look inside the culture of playing folk music for fun. Having known virtually all the participants who helped Dr. Allsbrook, I can attest fully to the authenticity, the educational value, and the entertaining aspects presented in Making Music."- Marc Pruett, Grammy recipient, honorary doctor of arts, and recipient of the North Carolina Heritage Award
"This collection of oral histories offers up new information on the instrument’s recent spread. By focusing on a specific mountain area of Western North Carolina, Allsbrook documents families of musicians and the way music is learned and perpetuated. He provides an interesting read for all those inquisitive about the banjo’s growth."- Bob Carlin, longtime banjo performer, documentarian, and disseminator