From 1875 to 1915, the 5-string banjo was a full-fledged concert instrument. At that time banjo bands at colleges and universities were very common. The banjo was strung with gut strings and it was picked with bare fingers in a three fingered style of playing. With the advent of that new American music - jazz - the plectrum and tenor banjos became the instruments of choice. The 5 string banjo and the three fingered style of playing dwindled.
In 1948, several professional banjo players from the early 1900's decided to form an organization dedicated to preserving this old method of playing the banjo. The American Banjo Fraternity was born and the term "Classic Banjo" was coined. "Classic Banjo" refers to the method of playing the banjo, not the type of music played on the banjo.
The music presented here are the group numbers played at the American Banjo Fraternity Rallies. At the rallies, two sessions of Round Robins are played; during which each banjoist has an opportunity to play two solo pieces, with or without accompaniment. Several times during the Round Robin, a few group numbers will be played allowing all the banjoists to play together.
The music for these pieces was obtained at American Banjo Fraternity rallies, either from the music librarian or from other members of the fraternity. Unfortunately, most visitors to this site won't have the ability to visit a rally. For the convenience of those desiring to try a Classic Banjo arrangement, several titles are available for viewing and printing on the "Print Music" page.
The MIDI files contain both first and second banjo arrangements. The first banjo provides the melody while the second banjo provides the harmony. Unless noted otherwise, the second banjo parts are my own arrangements.
Berkeley March by Brooks & Denton and published in the mid 1890's. Harry Denton (1865-1959) was the first president of the American Banjo Fraternity. In his honor, "Berkeley March" is the "Theme Song" for the American Banjo Fraternity rallies.
Dance California was published in 1894. The piece was composed by George W. Gregory, a well known performer, composer, and teacher in the New York City area. Both the first and second banjo parts are from sheet music published for the banjo by Clifford Essex Music Co., an English publisher.
A Footlite Favorite by Emile Grimshaw. Emile Grimshaw, an Englishman, was a very prolific composer of music for the five-string banjo. His first banjo piece was published in the early 1900's and he was still actively composing into the 1930's. Both the first and second banjo parts are from sheet music published for the banjo by Clifford Essex.
Ladbroke March was composed by Charles Skinner, who came from a well known family of English banjoists. It was published in the English magazine BMG (Banjo, Mandolin, and Guitar) in the 1950's.
On the Mill Dam Galop was composed by A.A. Babb, a well known professional banjoist and a member of the Boston Ideals Club, a group of the top banjo, mandolin, and guitar teachers and performers in the Boston area. It was published in 1895 by Gatcomb.
Smiler Rag by Percy Wenrich, 1907. The first banjo arrangement was by W.D. Kenneth while the second was by Cliff Spaulding, an early member of the American Banjo Fraternity.
Sunflower Dance was originally titled "With the Tide Schottish," composed by Herman Rowland, and published by S.S. Stewart in 1886. This piece was recorded by Vess Ossman and was later published under that name by Clifford Essex, circa 1901-1905, along with many other numbers that Ossman recorded. The piece is well known as "Sunflower Dance" as it was included in later editions of Grimshaw's Banjo tutor. The first banjo arrangement came from sheet music published by Clifford Essex Music Co.
Transatlantique was composed by Tarrant Bailey, Jr. in 1959. It was written for the American Banjo Fraternity and given to the organization as a gift by the composer. The first banjo arrangement is from a copy of Tarrant Bailey’s handwritten manuscript.
Whistling Rufus by Kerry Mills, 1899. This piece should be familiar to most bluegrass and old-time music players. On most albums its origin is given as "traditional," but it was composed and published by the Tin Pan Alley composer Kerry Mills. Incidentally, Mills was also responsible for other "traditional" pieces, two that come to mind are "Red Wing" and "At A Georgia Campmeeting." The first banjo arrangement presented here came from music published by Clifford Essex.
A special thanks to Eli Kaufman for his assistance with the above notes.
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