There was a time, not so long ago, when the banjo was the frequent butt of jokes. Much like the accordion or bagpipes, the banjo has been much maligned for its loud, distinctive sound, and the fact that it seems endemic to musical genres not in our usual rotation, anyway. But times change, and everything old is new again. That is to say, the banjo has come back in recent years, and in a big way, too. The instrument’s resonant twang can now be heard in some of the most popular bands going. And with the recent loss of folk legend (and iconic banjo picker) Pete Seeger, our national embrace of the banjo may be actually here to stay. So April 1st, head down to the Baltimore Museum of Industry to brush up on the banjo’s surprising influence on Baltimore’s history—or is it the other way around?
The BMI’s new exhibit explores the banjo’s role in local business and why Baltimore was at the epicenter of one of America’s first popular music crazes. Opening April 1, the temporary exhibit, titled “Making Music: The Banjo in Baltimore and Beyond”, features banjos, sheet music, profiles of local banjo makers, and explores how our city was instrumental in the history of American banjo music. For nearly 300 years the banjo has been a part of the American narrative, with the city of Baltimore playing an integral role in its legacy, from the manufacture of instruments to being the birthplace of some of the most highly regarded banjo players in history. “The banjo is quintessentially American, and has a long and proud history,” says BMI executive director Roland Woodward. While that may sound kind of grandiose, we have to agree that the humble banjo has earned its time in the sun—or at least in the Museum of Industry.
The Baltimore Museum of Industry is open Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., and closed Mondays. The Museum is located at 1415 Key Highway in Baltimore. For more information, visit www.thebmi.org.