String band

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A string band is an old-time music or jazz ensemble made up mainly or solely of string instruments. String bands were popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and are among the forerunners of modern country music and bluegrass. While being active countrywide, in Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs they are a huge part of its musical culture and traditions, appearing, among others, in the yearly Mummers Parade.


History of African American old-time string band music

Although African American old-time string bands recorded history is that of the early 20th century, the beginnings of the music started much earlier. Many people once believed that the role African Americans played in the upcoming of old-time string band music was either nonexistent or to interest the middle ages or medieval times. The genre of African American folk music actually began with the use of percussion instruments, which were used to create music in form of encouragement to keep the slaves exercising on slave ships. Furthermore, that then sparked the usage of percussion instruments such as banjos and violins that the slaves played as a way of entertainment. [1]

Instruments in an old-time string band

Old-time string bands were mainly composed of stringed instruments. Those instruments being the fiddle, 5-string banjo, acoustic guitar, and an upright bass/cello. Depending on the type of genre the old-time music is being accompanied by, the stringed instruments may also be joined by other instruments including spoons, washboards, jugs, harmonica, harps and pianos. [2]

String bands in old-time music

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, other stringed instruments began to be added to the fiddle-banjo duo that was essential to dance music of the early 19th century United States. These other instruments included the guitar, mandolin, and double bass (or washtub bass), which provided chordal and bass line accompaniment (or occasionally melody also). Such an assemblage, of whatever instrumentation, became known simply as a "string band."

In the 1870s African-American dance houses of Cincinnati had musicians who played violin, banjo, and bass fiddle. [3] East of the Mississippi, the genre gave way to country music in the 1930s and bluegrass music in the 1940s. During the same period, west of the Mississippi, Western musicians retained the acoustic style of the bands while the big Western dance bands amplified their strings.

String bands in jazz

Artists began to combine and record string-band music in collaboration with other popular styles in the 1920s. Lonnie Johnson and his brother, James “Steady Roll” Johnson were both proficient at banjo, guitar, and violin, and recorded with various string bands in a blues style. Lonnie Johnson also recorded duets with Eddie Lang during the late 1920s, and set the precedent for string band jazz, which included Bull Frog Moan/A Handful of Riffs from 1929. As influential as the Johnson/Lang duets were those by Lang and Joe Venuti. These works, completed in 1926, emphasized the rhythm of a chordal guitar with the melody in the swung violin line.

Red McKenzie, who also recorded with Lang, recorded with an influential string band group during the 1930s, the Spirits of Rhythm. The group consisted of tiple, guitar, homemade percussion, double bass, and often involved scat singing. The particular form of scat that was eventually associated with string band music was based on Harlem slang, and can be heard in McKenzie’s recording My Old Man, from 1933. Another string band from the 1930s, Slim and Slam, continued this particular form of scat in their recording The Flat Foot Floogie. [4]

Related Research Articles

The banjo is a stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity to form a resonator. The membrane is typically circular, and usually made of plastic, or occasionally animal skin. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by African-Americans in the United States, adapted from African instruments of similar design. The banjo is frequently associated with folk and country music, and has also been used in some rock songs. Several rock bands, such as The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers, have used the five-string banjo in some of their songs. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African-American traditional music and the folk culture of rural whites before entering the mainstream via the minstrel shows of the 19th century. Along with the fiddle, the banjo is a mainstay of American styles of music, such as Bluegrass and old-time music. It is also very frequently used in traditional ("trad") jazz.

Double bass Acoustic stringed instrument of the violin family

The double bass, also known simply as the bass, is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. The Double bass has a similar structure to the cello.

Pizzicato Playing technique for string instruments

Pizzicato is a playing technique that involves plucking the strings of a string instrument. The exact technique varies somewhat depending on the type of instrument:

Jazz band

A jazz band is a musical ensemble that plays jazz music. Jazz bands vary in the quantity of its members and the style of jazz that they play but it is common to find a jazz band made up of a rhythm section and a horn section.

Bluegrass music is a genre of American roots music that developed in the 1940s in the United States Appalachian region. The genre derives its name from the band Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Unlike mainstream country music, bluegrass is traditionally played on acoustic stringed instruments. Bluegrass has roots in traditional English, Scottish and Irish ballads and dance tunes, and in traditional African-American blues and jazz. Bluegrass was further developed by musicians who played with Monroe, including 5-string banjo player Earl Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt. Monroe characterized the genre as: "Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin'. It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It's blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound."

Skiffle is a genre of folk music with influences from blues, jazz, and American folk music, generally performed with a mixture of manufactured and homemade or improvised instruments. Originating as a form in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, it became extremely popular in the UK in the 1950s, where it was played by such artists as Lonnie Donegan, The Vipers Skiffle Group, Ken Colyer, and Chas McDevitt. Skiffle was a major part of the early careers of some musicians who later became prominent jazz, pop, blues, folk, and rock performers, The Beatles and Rory Gallagher amongst them. It has been seen as a critical stepping stone to the second British folk revival, the British blues boom, and British Invasion of the US popular music.

Eddie Lang

Eddie Lang is known as the father of jazz guitar. During the 1920s, he gave the guitar a prominence it previously lacked as a solo instrument, as part of a band or orchestra, and as accompaniment for vocalists. He recorded duets with guitarists Lonnie Johnson and Carl Kress and jazz violinist Joe Venuti, and played rhythm guitar in the big band of Paul Whiteman and was the favoured accompanist of Bing Crosby.

Old-time music is a genre of North American folk music. It developed along with various North American folk dances, such as square dancing, clogging, and buck dancing. It is played on acoustic instruments, generally centering on a combination of fiddle and plucked string instruments, most often the banjo, guitar, and mandolin.

Multi-instrumentalist Musician who plays multiple musical instruments

A multi-instrumentalist is a musician who plays two or more musical instruments at a professional level of proficiency.

New Grass Revival

New Grass Revival was an American progressive bluegrass band founded in 1971, and composed of Sam Bush, Courtney Johnson, Ebo Walker, Curtis Burch, Butch Robins, John Cowan, Béla Fleck and Pat Flynn. They were active between 1971 and 1989, releasing more than twenty albums as well as six singles. Their highest-charting single is "Callin' Baton Rouge", which peaked at No. 37 on the U.S. country charts in 1989 and was a Top 5 country hit for Garth Brooks five years later.

Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys was an American bluegrass band. The band was founded by guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs and is viewed by music historians as one of the premier bluegrass groups in the history of the genre. The band was originally formed in 1948 by Flatt, who had been a member of Bill Monroe's bluegrass band. Flatt brought Scruggs with him shortly after leaving Monroe.

Appalachian music

Appalachian music is the music of the region of Appalachia in the Eastern United States. It is derived from various European and African influences, including English ballads, Irish and Scottish traditional music, hymns, and African-American blues. First recorded in the 1920s, Appalachian musicians were a key influence on the early development of Old-time music, country music, and bluegrass, and were an important part of the American folk music revival of the 1960s. Instruments typically used to perform Appalachian music include the banjo, American fiddle, fretted dulcimer, and guitar.


Flatpicking is the technique of striking the strings of a guitar with a pick held between the thumb and one or two fingers. It can be contrasted to fingerstyle guitar, which is playing with individual fingers, with or without wearing fingerpicks. While the use of a plectrum is common in many musical traditions, the exact term "flatpicking" is most commonly associated with Appalachian music of the American southeastern highlands, especially bluegrass music, where string bands often feature musicians playing a variety of styles, both fingerpicking and flatpicking. Musicians who use a flat pick in other genres such as rock and jazz are not commonly described as flatpickers or even plectrum guitarists. As the use of a pick in those traditions is commonplace, generally only guitarists who play without a pick are noted by the term "fingerpicking" or "fingerstyle".

Walkers Run

Walker's Run is an acoustic bluegrass band based out of Lexington, Virginia who also play New Grass and Jazz music.

American fiddle

American fiddle-playing began with the early settlers who found that the small viol family instruments were portable and rugged. According to Ron Yule, "John Utie, a 1620 immigrant, settled in the North and is credited as being the first known fiddler on American soil". Early influences were Irish fiddle styles as well as Scottish and the more refined traditions of classical violin playing. Popular tunes included "Soldier's Joy", for which Robert Burns had written lyrics, and other such tunes as "Flowers of Edinburgh" and "Tamlin," which were claimed by both Scottish and Irish lineages.

"Blues fiddle" is a generic term for bowed, stringed instruments played on the arm or shoulder that are used to play blues music. Since no blues artists played violas, the term is synonymous with violin, and blues players referred to their instruments as "fiddle" and "violin".

Bluegrass mandolin

Bluegrass mandolin is a style of mandolin playing most commonly heard in bluegrass bands.

William G. Evans is an American musician, author, and instructor noted for his banjo proficiency and knowledge of the history of the instrument.


Kukuruza is a Russian band who progressed from a student startup to become an international touring act in the early 1990s.

Mandolins in North America

The mandolin has had a place in North American culture since the 1880s, when a "mandolin craze" began. The continent was a land of immigrants, including Italian immigrants, some of whom brought their mandolins with them. In spite of the mandolin having arrived in America, it was not in the cultural consciousness until after 1880 when the Spanish Students arrived on their international performing tour. Afterwards, a "mandolin craze" swept the United States, with large numbers of young people taking up the instrument and teachers such as Samuel Siegel touring the United States. The fad died out after World War I, but enough had learned the instrument that it remained. The mandolin found a new surge with the music of Bill Monroe; the Gibson F-5 mandolin he played, as well as other archtop instruments, became the American standard for mandolins. Bowlback mandolins were displaced. The instrument has been taken up in blues, bluegrass, jug-band music, country, rock, punk and other genres of music. While not as popular as the guitar, it is widespread across the country.


  1. Epstein, Dena (1977). Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War. Urbana: Univeristy of Illinois Press. pp. 9–17, 34, 47, 80.
  2.,%205-string%20banjo,minstrel%20versions%20of%20the%20banjo. Retrieved 2021-04-21.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. The Music of Black Americans: A History, by Eileen Southern, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 1997. pages 327,328. ISBN   978-0-393-03843-9, ISBN   978-0-393-03843-9
  4. Shipton, Alyn. "String band in Oxford Music Online." String Band. Oxford Music Online. Web.