Bessaraboff Prize Awarded to Banjo Roots and Branches



The 2020 Nicholas Bessaraboff Prize for best book-length publication that furthers the society's mission is awarded to Robert B. Winans and colleagues for the book Banjo Roots and Branches (Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2018). This collection presents research on the African and Caribbean roots of the banjo from new perspectives. It explores the banjo as a slave instrument, and finally its multiple uses as folk and minstrel instrument in the nineteenth and twentieth century from both black and white perspectives.


Winans explained in his introduction that the genesis of the book began in conversations that were had at the 2007 Banjo Gathering in Philadelphia. As Winans noted “A number of very capable and knowledgeable attendees were engaged in research building upon the scholarly literature on the banjo, dealing with significant issues not addressed in that literature. We were trying to promote awareness of those communities and traditions we were researching, and trying to find a way to make the content and issues matter to both general readers and special interest groups within and beyond academia.” Winans was asked to lead the effort and in 2008 a separate conference was held to begin to put together the elements of the book. The final result includes the contributions of ten authors in seventeen chapters organized by geography and chronology.


AMIS members may well remember the outstanding presentation made by the late Shlomo Pestcoe at the 2012 annual meeting in New York City regarding his research regarding African antecedents of the banjo. Pestcoe, who died in 2015, wrote or co-authored six of the seventeen chapters in the book. The book was dedicated in memoriam to him for his work and initiative for the project.


The Bessaraboff Committee is pleased to make this award in recognition of the outstanding scholarly contribution of this publication and to the inter-disciplinary approach that draws together the expertise and perspectives of its authors. In addition to Winans, the award recognizes the contributions of all of its authors: Shlomo Pestcoe, Greg C. Adams, Nick Bamber, Chuck Levy, Saskia Willaert, Pete Ross, George R. Gibson, Jim Dalton, and Tony Thomas.


Bessaraboff 2020 Committee Stewart Carter, chair Robert Green Jayson Kerr Dobney, ex-officio

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