After an emotional morning spent visiting the Oklahoma National Memorial, I switched gears and headed to the American Banjo Museum. The American Banjo Museum is located just feet from the hotel where I was staying, but due to road construction, I had to take a longer route under a freeway bridge and through the back parking lot.
The back -
The Front -
When I was purchasing my tickets, the very welcoming woman working at the front entrance asked me if I was a musician. After talking with her, I learned that this is primarily a musicians museum.
I am not a musician.
Furthermore, I lack any talent in the music department. My paternal grandparents were both very musically inclined. My grandfather was actually a musician, composer, and conductor. He worked in Hollywood and in various orchestras around America. His specialty was the clarinet and if you play the clarinet, you might have even used a product that he invented. During the second world war, my grandfather invented a plastic coating for reeds called "Plasticover." Pretty cool, right? My one attempt at an playing an instrument was the violin in third grade. I was so pitiful at it, that when it came time to perform for parents, I held the bow just above the strings and copied the other kids, rather than actually playing. Thus, my interest in acting was sparked! I also took chorus, but only the kind where they let any kid participate. I am absolutely tone deaf. No solos for me. I was always positioned away from the microphone.
So, why the American Banjo Museum? I've been answering this question posed by all of my befuddled friends as I've been telling them about my trip to Oklahoma City. I figured, why not the American Banjo Museum? I'm not exactly a huge banjo fan, but I like it well enough when thrown in the mix. I like blue grass, folk, and country music: where banjos make appearances. I'm someone who can find joy in learning, pretty much no matter what the subject, so why not learn about banjos? Mostly, I was in Oklahoma, I had limited tourist time, and it was close to my hotel.
I visited on a quiet Friday afternoon, where I was the only guest in the museum. The first set of exhibits, gave a background on the banjo with a short multi-media presentation. I learned that the banjo is a modified version of instruments that slaves brought over from Africa. The banjo was first played on plantations, but spread to white communities after the civil war. The height of its popularity was from the turn of the century to the roaring twenties, when it was used in jazz bands.
Here's one of the oldest banjo's in the collection. It's pre-civil war and unfortunately, it has an association with mistral shows.
When I mentioned the museum to friends, inevitably they mentioned the movie "Deliverance." There was a Deliverance nod.
Dan and I have a sizable collection of records. We don't have a record player, but we have a game where we go to record stores and try to find covers of inexpensive/bargain albums that make us laugh. One day we will buy a record player and have a party where we actually listen to what we have bought. Many of the albums come from the "World Music" and "Folk" sections. Here are some pictures of banjo albums that made me smile.
Of all the facts I learned about banjo's, nothing surprised me as much as what I read below. A lot of my friends rolled their eyes when I told them about going to the museum and I suppose it's because the banjo has a reputation for being "twangy", but at one time it was a very sophisticated instrument for the well-breed. Who knew?
As you would imagine, the American Banjo Museum has A LOT of banjos. I did a quick pass through the gallery, stopping to admire the intricate design work on many of the instruments.
You've heard of player-pianos? Not to be outdone, a player-banjo was created. Apparently it wasn't very good though.
There was a special exhibition featuring Roy Clark. I have to confess that I had never heard of Roy Clark before my visit to the museum. I learned that he is well-regarded as a banjo player, was on Hee-Haw, and seemed to be a humble man who is respected by many. He also favors elaborate bedazzled leisure suits!
My banjo education continued with Your Father's Mustache.
Your Father's Mustache is the name of a chain of 1920's themed nightclubs that began in Boston in the early sixties. Your Father's Mustache featured banjo bands and was the second most successful nightclub chain of the era. The museum has a mock-up of the club with retro signs and information. The way this is set up, I think they probably actually use this space for museum performances and events.
The museum hosts the Banjo Hall of Fame. I didn't recognize many of the names, but I took a picture of exhibit featuring "Georgette Twain: Queen of the Banjo," because she was one of the few women in a male dominated field and her dress is pretty!
I saw a banjo signed by FDR!
The museum is small and since I'm not a musician, I probably spent less time than a musician would have admiring the instruments. It took me about forty-five minutes to enjoy the museum. If you're in the Oklahoma City area, I highly recommend visiting the American Banjo Museum. It's fascinating, educational, and engaging. Plus, it's only eight dollars for adults. A bargain!
I'll close with this picture of a snazzy banjo themed suit.