From Africa To America: How the Banjo was Appropriated and Ripped From Black History

How the Banjo was Ripped From Black History

By Evelyn Rich


If you look at White American history, you’ll notice everything they have was stolen. Their land, accomplishments, instruments, and money was taken from someone else and appropriated into their own culture. The banjo is just one example of one culture’s accomplishment turned into something for the white man’s benefit. 

What the Banjo Meant to Slaves

Music is a large part of African and African American history. Its used not only as a source of entertainment, but to tell stories, teach life lessons, and heal people in traditional medicine. When slaves were bought to America from Africa, they were forced to leave their life behind and embrace the cultures and traditions of their masters. However, instead of forgetting about the life they were pulled from slaves found ways to preserve their culture and create new traditions.

The original banjo was created as a direct and cultural memory of African flutes and strings by artists and crafts people who were enslaved in the south and Caribbean Islands. Slaves used this instrument in the Caribbean Island as a way to communicate with each other when there was a language barrier and as a form of entertainment. I imagine the banjo was also created as a way for slaves to hold onto their culture and the life that was stolen from them.

How White People Stole it

The issue

Originally, the banjo was only played by Black slaves in North America and the Caribbean Island and was a black instrument. It became apart of a person’s identity when a slave played the banjo. 

Eventually white people picked up on this instrument and started playing it as apart of the Blackface Minstrel Show. They made changes to it to fit their culture and the new banjo blew up. 

As the minority group, African Americans don’t know much about their history. Schools rarely ever teach black history and when they do, its the same information about slavery and the civil rights movement. When you mention the Banjo, many people, including myself,  think of it as a white instrument and automatically connect it to white country and folk music. Little did we know, the banjo is apart of Black history and who we are. 

How the Banjo was Originally Played

How the Banjo is Played Now


The Banjo was created by artists and craftspeople that were enslaved in the South and Caribbean Island. It was made in a direct and cultural memory to African flutes and strings. Once White people caught word of this instrument, the banjo became a critical part of the Blackface Minstrel Show and became symbolic of White supremacy. The instrument was then appropriated and ripped from Black history.

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