The banjo’s sound is synonymous with country, folk, and bluegrass—music as “white” as it gets. For many, it’s the quintessential American instrument. Its origin, though, lies in Africa, in various instruments featuring skin drum heads and gourd bodies. Slaves fashioned them into the modern version in the colonial Caribbean, from where it traveled, via 19th-century minstrel shows, into the very heart of American popular culture. Duke University historian Laurent Dubois, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Caribbean, traces the banjo’s extraordinary trajectory and the part it has played in the very concept of America.
This program is presented in partnership with the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.