The national broadcast premiere of Visual and Media Arts Associate Professor Marc Fields’s documentary Give Me the Banjo will air Friday (November 4) at 9:00 pm on PBS. It will be shown as part of a new series called PBS Arts Fall Festival.
Narrated by Steve Martin, the 82-minute film tells the story of what Fields calls “America’s quintessential musical instrument”—the banjo. The film covers the instrument’s history, from its African roots to the present, and features performances and commentary by musicians such as Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Fields has worked on the project for nearly a decade.
“What we found compelling, and what drove this project from the inception, is the fact that you can really get a new perspective on the story of American popular music with the banjo as the vehicle,” said Fields. “It truly cuts across all categories and boundaries of race, class, region, or genre. The instrument is at the root of roots music and at the crossroads where folk tradition meets commercialism, yet it’s still struggling for the respect and serious attention it deserves.”
Fields gathered more than 350 hours of interviews, performances, and events. All of the material will become the basis for a cultural resource center for banjo history at www.thebanjoproject.org, funded by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. The College also helped to make the film project possible through Faculty Advancement Funding and Huret grants. Current MFA student Shaun Clarke is an associate producer on the production.
Plans for a special screening of the film for the College community are in the works. The film will eventually be available on DVD.