Banjo Pickers

I VIVIDLY REMEMBER the banjo pickers frequently seen in the streets or standing on a corner plunking out a melody. People often laughed and poked fun at these poor illiterate men who carried their instruments tied around their necks with a heavy string. Most of them came to town from some lowly home in the country and dressed in faded blue overalls and a faded blue coat. Their greatest and best loved possessions were their banjos, and they handled them with affection. Sometimes, one might think that the players looked shiftless and lazy standing on a corner with their banjos. Upon reflection, their instruments gave them the meaning of expressing the emotions that were pent up in their hearts.
 
They often had nothing of value--no money, no clothes, sometimes no jobs and no friends. They were deeply conscious of this fact, but they did possess and love their banjos. They entrusted to those instruments the job of making them forget their physical deprivations and of interpreting their joys and sorrow to the world.
 
Some players had a few set chords that they would always sound, and whether the tune was "Bill Bailey" or "Yellow Dog," it was strummed in the same key. Others had a masterful ear for the pitch, a strong rhythmic sense and were excellent at the art of extemporizing. They really had the beat and knew how to use it.
 
They plugged their instruments continuously, and most of them paid no attention to the jeers of laughter of others. They stolidly carried their banjos strung across their shoulders and played on street corners, at dances and at the grocery store. I once heard a man strike up a tune on a streetcar.
 
Getting one of them to play only required a request similar to this, "Say, won’t you play me a tune?" A few exploratory chords were always caressingly given on the strings of the banjo before he would really begin. Then his head would bend low, and he seemed almost lost in a reverie as he listened in a concentrated manner to the first notes that he sounded. They seemed to make him decide what he wanted to play and just how he wanted to play it.
 
After his mind was made up, he threw himself into the job of producing music and played with reckless skill. Every care in the world seemed to take wings and fly away as the banjo strings poured forth a veritable cascade of rippling music. The player’s feet kept the beet, and most feet in his audience, if he had one, seemed to joint automatically in the patting. These musicians seldom knew a note of music, but nature had bestowed upon many of them great gifts--a love for music, the ability to harmonize any tune that they heard, and the power to create their own tunes.
 
Banjo players made a contribution to the world’s happiness. By their insistence and determination to play, they made people recognize that the banjo, or box as some called it, was capable of producing interesting music. They were the forerunners of the popularity and recognition that is accorded today’s banjo music.

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