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Steve Martin Narrates Chronicle of the Country’s Music, History and Popular Culture Through “America’s Quintessential Instrument”


Thursday, October 27th, 2011


GIVE ME THE BANJO premieres Friday, November 4, 8:00 p.m. on WTVP 47.1.


Steve Martin playing the Banjo

This fall, PBS viewers will embark on an epic musical odyssey through 300 years of American history and culture by way of the banjo — from its earliest use by enslaved Africans in colonial America to the 21st century. GIVE ME THE BANJO, a documentary presented by UNC-TV North Carolina, premieres Friday, November 4, 8:00 p.m. on WTVP 47.1. GIVE ME THE BANJO is part of the first PBS Arts Fall Festival, a multi-platform event anchored by nine films that highlight artists and performances from around the country.

Narrated by actor/comedian/banjoist Steve Martin, and guided by modern banjo masters such as Earl Scruggs, Pete Seeger, Bela Fleck, Mike Seeger, Carolina Chocolate Drops and Abigail Washburn, GIVE ME THE BANJO explores American music from minstrelsy, ragtime and blues, to folk and bluegrass. In addition to musicians, a mix of folklorists, historians, instrument makers and passionate amateurs tells stories of America’s instrument in all its richness and diversity. Rare stills, first-hand narratives, archival footage and recordings of historic banjo figures surround and expand on the expert commentary.

Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and country music royalty Rosanne Cash, whose music spans many genres, from country and folk to blues, rock and pop, will host the program. Daughter of the late legend Johnny Cash, she has sung with banjo legend Earl Scruggs, who is featured prominently in the broadcast. In addition to introducing the show, Cash will talk with country music star Rodney Crowell about the influence of banjo music on their individual styles.

PBS member station UNC-TV produced the short documentary film that will accompany GIVE ME THE BANJO. A short description: Out of both necessity and ingenuity, the handcrafting of tools and household items helped sustain the people and the culture of the remote Blue Ridge Mountains for centuries. Today, these crafts continue in both their most traditional forms and in bold interpretations that veer toward contemporary art. This film explores the work of four Blue Ridge Mountain artists — wood carver Davy Arch, metal worker Bill Brown, potter Mark Peters and basket maker Billie Ruth Sudduth — capturing the traditions of their crafts while tapping into the creative forces that inspire more abstract expressionism.

GIVE ME THE BANJO was directed by Emmy® Award-winning writer/producer Marc Fields. Banjo master Tony Trischka, one of the most acclaimed acoustic musicians of his generation, served as music director. Michael Kantor is executive producer. Nine years in the making, the production traveled to 14 states; more than 350 hours of interviews and performances were filmed.

“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,” says 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.”

This multi-platform project will offer additional materials on the PBS Arts website. A wealth of musical and historical content beyond the broadcast program is the foundation of a web-based archive (www.thebanjoproject.org) that will serve as a cultural gathering place for exchanging knowledge and news about the banjo.

Steve Martin, the multi-talented Grammy-® and Emmy Award-winning actor/comedian/musician and bestselling author, has proven his star power as one of the most diversified performers in the entertainment industry today. Martin is a recognized member of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Notable film credits include The Jerk, Roxanne, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Father of the Bride, Sgt. Bilko, Bowfinger, Cheaper by the Dozen, Shopgirl (which he adapted for the screen from his best-selling novella of the same name) and The Pink Panther. This fall he can be seen in Fox’s The Big Year opposite Owen Wilson and Jack Black. In 2008, Martin released his New York Times best-seller autobiography Born Standing Up which chronicles his early years as a stand-up comic. Martin has experienced a successful foray into the music world with the release of his bluegrass albums, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo and Rare Bird Alert.

Funding for GIVE ME THE BANJO has been provided by the Southern Humanities Media Fund, The Tides Foundation, Mass Humanities, Innovative Films and Deering Banjos.





For further information contact Linda Miller, WTVP Vice President of Programming, at (309) 495-0591 or linda.miller@wtvp.org



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