Cover for LINN: That Half-Barbaric Twang: The Banjo in American Popular Culture. Click for larger image

That Half-Barbaric Twang

The Banjo in American Popular Culture

Long a symbol of American culture, the banjo actually originated in Africa and was later adopted by European-Americans. In this book Karen Linn shows how the banjo - despite design innovations and several modernizing agendas - has failed to escape its image as a "half-barbaric" instrument symbolic of antimodernism and sentimentalism.

Caught in the morass of American racial attitudes and often used to express ambivalence toward modern industrial society, the banjo stood in opposition to the "official" values of rationalism, modernism, and belief in the beneficence of material progress. Linn uses popular literature, visual arts, advertisements, film, performance practices, instrument construction and decoration, and song lyrics to illustrate how notions about the banjo have changed.

Her text traces the instrument from its African origins through the 1980s, alternating between themes of urban modernization and rural nostalgia. She examines the banjo fad of bourgeois Northerners during the late nineteenth century, African-American banjo tradition and the commercially popular cultural image of the southern black banjo player, the banjo in ragtime and early jazz, and the white Southerner and mountaineer as banjo player.

"Well written and well researched; Linn has amassed an impressive amount of data, and she uses it effectively. . . . This is an excellent book that should be of interest to not only historians, folklorists, and musicologists but also the banjo player and the general reader."--Charlie Seemann, Journal of Southern History

"An absolute must read for anyone interested in the banjo."--Five Stringer

"Concise, well-supported, and provocative. . . . The clearest voice of revelation regarding American's most misunderstood instrument."--Bob Fulcher, Journal of Country Music

"An intriguing analysis of the role of the banjo in recent American culture and society. . . . Highly recommended."--R. D. Cohen, Choice

"Uses everything from sentimental novels and escaped slave posters to Felix the Cat cartoons and magazine advertisements to create impressive cultural history of what the author calls the 'idea of the banjo.' . . . Linn's wonderful book is scholarly without being jargoned, serious without being tedious. . . . A book for dipping into, underlining, reading aloud in snatches, and opening repeatedly."--Rachel Rubin, Banjo Newsletter

Karen Linn is an archivist in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. She has published articles in North Carolina Folklore Journal and American Music.

To order online:

To order by phone:
(800) 621-2736 (USA/Canada)
(773) 702-7000 (International)

Related Titles

previous book next book
Harry T. Burleigh

From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance

Jean E. Snyder

Waiting for Buddy Guy

Chicago Blues at the Crossroads

Alan Harper

The Street Is My Pulpit

Hip Hop and Christianity in Kenya

Mwenda Ntarangwi

Music and the Moving Image

Edited by Gillian B. Anderson & Ronald H. Sadoff

Music in the Age of Anxiety

American Music in the Fifties

James Wierzbicki

Foggy Mountain Troubadour

The Life and Music of Curly Seckler

Penny Parsons

A City Called Heaven

Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music

Robert M. Marovich

Cafe Society

The wrong place for the Right people

Barney Josephson with Terry Trilling-Josephson

Bach Perspectives, Volume 10

Bach and the Organ

Edited by Matthew Dirst

A Cole Porter Companion

Edited by Don M. Randel, Matthew Shaftel, and Susan Forscher Weiss

Funk the Erotic

Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures

L. H. Stallings

American Music

Edited by Neil Lerner

Blackness in Opera

Edited by Naomi André, Karen M. Bryan, and Eric Saylor

Black Music Research Journal

Edited by Horace Maxile, Jr.


New York City's Unseen Scene

Thomas H. Greenland