The American Banjo Museum is a $5 million, world-class 21,000 square foot facility honoring the rich history, vibrant spirit and unlimited future of the banjo. The museum contains more than 300 instruments, the largest collection on public display in the world. Examples include replicas of primitive banjos developed by African slaves in the Old South, Minstrel Age instruments from 19th century, post WWII instruments used in bluegrass, folk and world music, and museum’s core collection of ornately decorated banjos made in America during the Jazz Age of the 1920’s and 30s.
Originally located in Guthrie, Oklahoma, the ABM was founded as a nonprofit organization in 1998 by Midwest City attorney, Brady Hunt and Indiana industrialist, Jack Canine under its previous name, The National Four-String Banjo Hall of Fame Museum. Mr. Canine, a retired Indiana industrialist as well as banjo player and enthusiast, has stated his belief that preserving and promoting the history of the banjo, America’s adopted native musical instrument, is a very important mission for future generations.
“Originally the Museum was founded primarily by and for enthusiasts and players of the four-string banjo, the predominate stringed instrument associated with the jazz age of the 1920s and early 30s,” commented ABM Executive Director, Johnny Baier. In contrast to that beginning, Baier noted that the banjo - in many different forms and musical styles - has been evolving for over 350 years, continuing that the new ABM is committed to presenting every chapter of the banjo’s story, from it’s roots in American slavery to its most recent identities in Bluegrass and international folk music.
The banjo was introduced to America by the African slave culture in the mid 1600s and remained exclusive to the black culture for nearly 200 years. Replicas of several of these ancient instruments are on display as visitors enter the museum. As the museum experience continues, visitors see examples of banjos made during the late 19th century during the so-called Minstrel Age of music when the banjo moved from the plantation to the stage and concert hall gaining broad public interest.
For the bluegrass music fan the name Gibson is synonymous with quality banjos. A special gallery in the museum spotlights a large collection of Gibson Mastertone banjos manufactured during the company’s golden years of the 1920s and 30s, including an extremely rare, pre-war Gibson five-string banjo valued at more than $175,000.00.
The second floor is home to the museum’s centerpiece collection of more than 200 four-string banjos from the Jazz Era of banjo music. These magnificent instruments are in superb condition, with ornate designs and tonal sound qualities which are literally frozen in time. Each banjo in this exclusive collection is a work of art, illustrating the ingenuity, craftsmanship and dedication of the artisans who created these masterpieces nearly a century ago.
To help fund operations, an endowment to benefit the Museum has been established with the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. Established through an anchor gift of $5 million made by Jack Canine, others wishing to contribute to the Museum’s endowment through tax deductible donations may do so through the Foundation.
The collection of the American Banjo Museum is nothing short of a national treasure.