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Popularizer of the Banjo
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Sneakin Deacon
N 37° 22.962 W 078° 47.380
17S E 695689 N 4139620
Quick Description: Joel Sweeney is credited with redesigning the instrument known today as the 5-string banjo.
Location: Virginia, United States
Date Posted: 8/6/2006 2:37:08 PM
Waymark Code: WMKA7
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member showbizkid
Views: 40

Long Description:
Joel Walker Sweeney of The Sweeney Minstrels, born 1810, was often credited with the invention of the short fifth string. Scholars know that this is not the case. A painting entitled The Old Plantation painted between 1777 and 1800, shows a black gourd banjo player with a banjo having the fifth string peg half-way up the neck. If Sweeney did add a fifth string to the banjo, it was probably the lowest string, or fourth string by today's reckoning. This would parallel the development of the banjo elsewhere, for example in England, where the tendency was to add more of the long strings, with seven and ten strings being common. Sweeney was responsible for the spread of the banjo and probably contracted with a drum maker in Baltimore, William Boucher, to start producing banjos for public sales. These banjos are basically drums with necks attached. A number have survived and a couple of them are in the collections of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Other makers, like Jacobs of New York, or Morrell who moved his shop to San Francisco during the Gold Rush, helped to supply the growing demand for the instrument in the mid-1840s, as the minstrel shows traveled westward to entertain the gold diggers.

This historical marker stands on Route 24, within the confines of the Appomattox National Historical Park. The Grave of Joel Sweeney is located some 200-yards northwest of the marker and can be reached a level walking path from the parking area located at the marker. The coordinates for the gravesite are 37 23.020 N and 078 47.466 W. The text of the marker reads:
"Nearby is buried Joel Walker Sweeny (ca. 1810-1860) the musican who redesigned this African instrument into the modern five-string banjo that is known today. Although slaves apparently added the fifth string to what had been a four-string instrument. Sweeney popularized the new form on the minstrel circuit. He toured with his two brothers, Sam and Dick, in minstrel shows from 1831 until his death in 1860. During the Civil War, Sam Sweeney served as Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's personal banjo picker until Sweeney's death in the winter of 1863-1864."
Marker Number: M-68

Marker Title: Popularizer of the Banjo

Marker Location: Route 24 .5 mile east of the Entrance to Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

County or Independent City: Appomattox County

Web Site: [Web Link]

Marker Program Sponsor: Not listed

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