(check your local listing)
When collector David Brown of Chicago, Illinois purchased the banjo at an auction several years ago, he wasn’t quite sure what he was getting.
Upon inspection, Brown found a crumpled note inside the instrument that said that the banjo was bought from a former slave in Bethel, Ohio by a family of abolitionists some time after Emancipation.
Looking to find out the authenticity of the antique instrument and the families involved in the transaction, Brown contacted HISTORY DETECTIVES to see if they could help solve the case.
HISTORY DETECTIVES in turn reached out to Taj Mahal, who is a well-known American music historian, and flew him into Cincinnati from his Berkeley, California home so that he could inspect firsthand the banjo in question.
The curious will need to tune-in on Monday, July 25 at 9PM ET/PT on PBS stations across the country (check local listings) to watch the special genealogy episode of HISTORY DETECTIVES to get the answer. The following are excerpts from Taj Mahal’s interview with Tukufu Zuberi:
On whether the banjo is rare, if in fact it came from a slave plantation:
“Oh yeah, you won’t find a lot of these around. You might find them in museums or amongst collectors, or people like that…it’s amazing, some things were around, they were everywhere, and then all of a sudden they just seem to dry up and there’s only a handful of them left around.”
On the place of the banjo in American history:
“It’s a very important instrument in linking Africa, African rhythms, African syntax with American music and then furthermore out to the rest of the world….And for me I just think that Americans really don’t know too much about their own cultural music.
We’re in this kind of zone where there’s a tremendous amount of ways that you can get to listen deep down into the heart of American music.
And I just think it’s important for people to know about their own roots in the country that they’re coming from. If it’s some place you’ve migrated to, you need to know about it.
If you lived there for generations, you need to know about it. And I think you have a much better, a more powerful enabled feeling for yourself.”
The other two stories to be featured in this special genealogy episode include: “Cherokee Bible,” the story of a bible that a Texas resident of Cherokee descent inherited from her father. The bible mysteriously contains writing that appears to be in the Cherokee language. HISTORY DETECTIVES investigates what they can learn about this woman’s family; and “United Empire Loyalist,” where a Northern California woman came across a family tree with those very words scribbled alongside several names. The United Empire Loyalists were the descendants of the more than 50,000 people who fled to Canada following Great Britain’s defeat in the Revolutionary War. HISTORY DETECTIVES investigates this mysterious family link to a forgotten story about the war.