Monday, December 15, 2014

Case Study No. 1740: Dena Epstein

The Librarian and The Banjo Trailer
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Added: 1 year ago
From: JimCarrierChannel
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["1973" appears on screen, as various still images of people playing the banjo are shown, while Arthur Smith's "Dueling Banjos" plays in the background]
NARRATOR: It would become a duel for the ages. Hillbilly banjos versus books in a library. In the spring of Seventy-Three, "Dueling Banjos" became a hit, and musical truth paid a price.
[cut to a man speaking directly to the camera]
BELA FLECK: All through the years that I started to learn to play the banjo, people would yell out "Squeal like a pig!"
[cut to a still image of Dena Epstein using a typewriter]
NARRATOR: Six months later, a music librarian typed out a paper that she'd researched for twenty years.
[cut to a copy of the article "The Folk Banjo, a Documentary History" by Dena J. Epstein]
NARRATOR: The banjo, she wrote, came from Africa with slaves.
[cut to a globe spinning, then to a painting of an African slave holding an instrument that appears to be a banjo]
NARRATOR: For many, those were fightin' words!
[cut to another man ("Tony Thoams, founder Black Banjo Then and Now") speaking directly to the camera]
TONY THOMAS: People I know received even death threats from some of these people!
[cut to another man ("Sule Greg Wilson, educator entertainer musician") speaking directly to the camera]
SULE GREG WILSON: "We wanna go back to the good ol' days" ... You baby! Which good ol' days are you talking about?
[cut to a woman ("Rhiannon Giddens, Carolina Chocolate Drops") speaking directly to the camera]
RHIANNON GIDDENS: It's not only that she went there, that she did the banjo research, but also that she dared to do the banjo research ...
[cut to another man ("Guthrie Ramsey Jr., professor of music, University of Pennsylvania") speaking directly to the camera]
GUTHRIE RAMSEY: And to think that it was done by this little lady that, y'know, who just looks so unassuming ...
[cut to a photograph of the Tennessee Banjo Institute ("Nov. 5-7, 1992")]
NARRATOR: It took another twenty years for Dena Epstein to emerge the winner of the banjo duel ...
[the camera zooms in on Dena in the crowd]
GUTHRIE RAMSEY: [in voice over] There's no question that Dena Epstein's work settled the question that enslaved people brought the banjo to the New World ...
[cut to Tony holding a copy of Dena's book "Sinful Tunes and Spirituals"]
TONY THOMAS: Uh, I wish that this book was in every home!
["The Librarian and the Banjo" appears on screen]



"The Librarian and the Banjo"

The life and legacy of Dena Epstein, a music librarian who documented that the banjo originated as a slave instrument. She set in motion pan-geographic scholarship, banjo construction and a revival of black banjo performance. A film by Jim Carrier.



I am proud to announce that my documentary, THE LIBRARIAN AND THE BANJO, has been accepted for the Wisconsin Film Festival in April.

The 55-minute film tells the story of Dena Epstein, a music librarian, now 96 years old, who documented that the banjo came from Africa with slaves. Her work shattered myths about the roots of American music, and has been described as "monumental."

The film features interviews with Dena (as everyone calls her), academics, banjo historians and musicians including the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka and Eric Weissberg. The soundtrack, from dozens of banjo players, includes music on gourd akontings, minstrel instruments and bluegrass banjos.

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