Kristin Scott Benson grew up in South Carolina, surrounded by a musical family. After receiving a much-anticipated banjo for Christmas when she was thirteen, Kristin became enthralled with the instrument and spent her teen years studying the playing of all the banjo greats from Earl Scruggs to Bela Fleck.
After high school, she attended Nashville’s esteemed Belmont University, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BBA in Marketing and a minor in Music Business.
She was a member of the Larry Stephenson Band for seven years. In 2008 she joined Nashville bluegrass band the Grascals, replacing Aaron McDaris.
After 13 years in Nashville, she relocated back to the Carolinas with her husband and young son. Her solo release, Second Season, features eight instrumentals (half of them originals) and four vocal performances. The album showcases her powerful banjo playing, while still appealing to fans that aren’t motivated solely by instrumental prowess.
is the four-time International Bluegrass Music Association’s Banjo Player of the Year (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011).
Kristin Scott Benson is the 2018 winner of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. “My family and I are overwhelmed with gratefulness!” said Benson. “Getting to know my banjo heroes, many of whom are on the board, is prize enough, but Steve Martin’s graciousness is a huge blessing. We don’t know how to adequately say thank you for something like this!”
Rhiannon Giddens was born February 21, 1977 in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a renowned multi-instrumentalist, composer, singer-songwriter and researcher, best known as one of the founders of the country, blues and old-time music band Carolina Chocolate Drops, where she was the lead singer, violinist, and banjo player.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ album Genuine Negro Jig won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards.
One of the essential part of Giddens’ work is her research of folk instruments and traditions of the African-American diaspora.
A MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient, Rhiannon has performed for the Obama’s at the White House and acted in two seasons of the hit television series Nashville.
In February 2015, Giddens released her debut solo recording Tomorrow Is My Turn on Nonesuch Records to widespread critical acclaim. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the album includes songs made famous by Patsy Cline, Odetta, Dolly Parton, and Nina Simone.
In addition to her solo recordings and her albums with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon recorded Out On the Ocean: Music of the British Isles (2004) and Northern Lights (2005) with Gaelwynd; Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes (2014) as The New Basement Tapes; and Songs of Our Native Daughters (Smithsonian Folkways), a collaborative album that tells the stories of historic black womanhood and survival. Rhiannon has European American, African American and Native American background.
In 2016, Rhiannon received the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.
in 2019 she collaborated with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. they released an album titled
Alison Brown was born August 7, 1962 in Hartford, Connecticut. She began her music career at a young age, playing banjo in several Southern California bands alongside fiddler Stuart Duncan as a teenager. After graduating from high school, bluegrass took a back seat while Brown attended Harvard University, earned an MBA, and worked as an investment banker.
Following successful tours with both Alison Krauss and Michelle Shocked, a Grammy-nomination for her first solo effort Simple Pleasures and the Banjo Player of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association, Brown put her business skills to work, founding Compass Records in 1995 with her husband Garry West. Brown?s discography includes five releases on Vanguard Records as well as four on Compass Records.
In the late 1990s Brown founded NewGrange, together with Philip Aaberg, Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Tim O’Brien and Todd Phillips. New Grange combines traditional American elements (folk, bluegrass, even gospel and classical) with contemporary instrumentation (strings and piano).
Brown’s first record on Compass was Out of the Blue. On her next album, Fair Weather, Brown is joined by special guests like Tim O’Brien, Claire Lynch, Vince Gill, Stuart Duncan, David Grier, and others, returning to her bluegrass roots with stunning results. The 2000 release includes the Grammy Award-winning track “Leaving Cottondale,” featuring Bela Fleck.
In 2002, during two days between performances at the Grand Ole Opry and a trip to the Shetland Folk Festival, the Alison Brown Quartet recorded Replay, a collection of 15 tracks recorded live in the studio. More than anything, this album is the sound of the Alison Brown Quartet relaxed and having a jamming good time in the studio. The album consists of a collection of “fans” favorites in the energetic, updated arrangements that have evolved onstage in the years since Alison Brown formed the Quartet. Produced by Garry West, Replay showcases Brown’s penchant for melodic flair. Her sound is both innovative and accessible and in Brown’s hands, her Appalachian instrument takes bluegrass, bebop and Hot Club swing into the stratosphere.
Alison Brown said about her 2005 album Stolen Moments: “For the first time, I feel like I’ve created a true hybrid sound that suggests its influences bluegrass, jazz, Celtic music but when taken as a whole isn’t any one of these things.” Among those playing on the album are bluegrass greats Sam Bush (mandolin) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle) as well as Irish maestros John Doyle (guitar) and Seamus Egan (flute), ex-Pretenders and Paul McCartney Band guitarist Robbie McIntosh and long time bandmate John R. Burr (piano). Also featured on the album are guest vocalists the Indigo Girls, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Andrea Zonn.
Brown tours internationally with the Alison Brown Quartet, has been a guest speaker at Harvard Business School, Dartmouth’s Amos Tuck School and the University of Colorado Boulder, and served as an Adjunct Professor at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.
She is also a reputable record producer. She worked with Dale Ann Bradley, Peter Rowan, Quiles & Cloud, and Claire Lynch.
Simple Pleasures (Vanguard Records, 1990) Twilight Motel (Vanguard Records, 1992) Look Left (Vanguard Records, 1994) Quartet (Vanguard Records, 1996) Out of the Blue (Compass Records, 1998) Fair Weather (Compass Records, 2000) Best of the Vanguard Years (Vanguard Records, 2002) Replay (Compass Records, 2002) Stolen Moments (Compass Records, 2005) Vanguard Visionaries, compilation (Vanguard Records, 2007) Evergreen (Compass Records, 2008) The Company You Keep (Compass Records, 2009) The Song Of The Banjo (Compass Records, 2015)
Gerry O’Connor – described by many as the best four-string banjoist in the history of Irish music, lets creativity take him where it wants to. He’s been doing this for some time now, and in the process has collected a great army of admirers not only in Ireland but also around the world.
O’Connor has developed a phenomenal technique on the tenor banjo, which sometimes gives the impression that there are perhaps three or four clones of the man all playing at the same time, as is apparent on “Cam a Lochaigh” (Cam-a-luck-ig) on his CD Myriad.
In the tradition of the O’Connor family, Gerry was presented with a fiddle even before he was old enough to hold it properly. His father and uncles were all fiddle players. “The fiddle I got was to big for me and I couldn’t manage it at all,” he says, “But there was more to it than that. I wanted to be a bit different, sure I loved the music but I wanted to make a sound that was different from the fiddle.” It was this desire that lead him to the banjo after hearing a player from Limerick play at the Barge Inn in Garry Kennedy. O’Connor instantly fell in love with the bright, rippling sound and had at last discovered the vehicle that would allow him to make an enormous contribution to the development of Irish music.
Gerry “banjo” O’Connor played banjo and fiddle with the band Four Men and a Dog during the 1990s.
O’Connor’s music has been featured on the BBC Series Tacsi and he has appeared as a guest on over 12 albums by such artists as Gordon Duncan and Niamh Parsons. Is he satisfied’ “Well, I suppose it is the curse and the joy of the musician and the artist in general. You’re never quite satisfied. I suppose the day I’m satisfied is the day I’ll lay down the banjo for good.”
Gerry “banjo” O’Connor has made several tuition videos and books for musicians who are learning how to play the banjo:
Tony Trischka is one of the most influential banjo players in the American roots music world. In his 40 plus years as a consummate banjo artist his stylings have inspired generations of bluegrass and acoustic musicians.
A true luminary in the banjo world, his technical and conceptual advances opened the way for such players as Bela Fleck and Alison Brown. His recordings with them and others such as Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Pete Seeger, members of REM, William S. Burroughs, Natalie Merchant, Alison Krauss and Steve Martin are part of every banjo-lovers musical reference.
Tony has raised the awareness of both the banjo and his music with numerous articles in the national press, interviews on radio, and television appearances. His solo album for Smithsonian Folkways Records, Territory was named Best Americana Album at the Independent Music Awards. He also produced Steve Martin’s Rare Bird Alert (Rounder) which features performances by Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks.
Tony is also the musical director of the documentary The Banjo Project, aired on PBS. In addition Tony is one of the instrument’s top teachers and has created numerous instructional books DVDs and CDs.
The ground-breaking Tony Trischka School of Banjo launched in July of 2009.
Bluegrass Light (Rounder Select 1973)
Heartlands (Rounder 1975)
Banjoland (Rounder Select 1976)
Fiddle Tunes for Banjo (Rounder 1981)
Robot Plane Flies Ove Arkansas (Rounder Select 1983) Hill Country (Rounder Select 1985)
Skyline Drive (FlyingFish 1986)
Dust on the Needle (Rounder 1987)
Fire of Grace (Flying Fish 1989)
World Turning (Rounder Select 1993)
Alone & Together Alcazar 1994) Glory Shone Around: A Christmas Collection (Rounder 1995)
Live at Birchmere Strictly Music 1995)
Bend (Rounder 1999)
New Deal (Rounder 2003) Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular (Rounder 2007)
Territory (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 2008)
The Mountain Music Project: A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya (Mountain Music Project 2012) Great Big World (Rounder 2014)
Echo in the Valley is the second album by husband and wife duo Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn. Both musicians are banjo innovators and Echo in the Valley is a real treat for banjo music fans.
Most of the material on Echo in the Valley is new, innovative material composed by the duo along with a handful of arrangements of traditional songs and material from other composers.
This is definitely not traditional bluegrass, but instead exquisitely-designed new acoustic music, rooted in American traditions, from bluegrass to folk and jazz.
Throughout Echo in the Valley, Fleck and Washburn use a wide-range of banjos (seven in total) that are plucked and bowed, along with Abigail’s mesmerizing and expressive vocals, and percussive dance on one song.
The physical CD version is beautifully packaged with a cut out shape of the two musicians and includes lyrics and credits.
Monoswezi – A Je (Riverboat Records TUG1103, 2017)
Transnational band Monoswezi, led by Hallvard Godal has released another fine example of African and world fusion. A Je showcases Pan-African influences that include West African ngoni, Zimbabwean mbira, trans-African percussion; African American banjo; along with Indian harmonium.
Monoswezi is at its best when the explosive mix of global percussion, traditional strings and western musical instruments interact with each other.
Personnel: Hallvard Godal (Norway) on vocals, harmonium and clarinet; Sidiki Camara (Mali) on ngoni; Kim Johannesen (Norway) on banjo; Hope Masike (Zimbabwe) on mbira, percussion and vocals; Calu Tsemane (Mozambique) on vocals and percussion; Putte Johander (Norway) on vocals and bass; and Erik Nylander (Sweden) on drums and percussion.
Noam Pikelny was born February 27, 1981, in Chicago, Illinois. He is one of the finest banjo musicians in the United States. In 2004 he released his first solo album titled In the Maze. In 2010 he was awarded the first annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass earning him an appearance on the popular American TV program The Late Show with David Letterman.
In 2011 Pikelny released his second album Beat The Devil and Carry A Rail. The album hit both the Billboard Top Heatseekers and Bluegrass album charts and was the focus of a Funny or Die parody video starring Pikelny with appearances from Steve Martin, Ed Helms, Earl Scruggs, Chris Thile, Gillian Welch and others.
Noam Pikelny works regularly with well-known artists beyond the bluegrass world including Punch Brothers Wilco Fiona Apple Norah Jones and Jon Brion for the soundtrack to This is 4 a feature song on The Hunger Games soundtrack and a collaboration with Marcus Mumford for the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis.
In 2013 Noam Pikelny released Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe, an interpretation of traditional Bluegrass through a bold complete adaptation of one of the most influential instrumental bluegrass records of all-time. Joining Pikelny on this album are some the best instrumentalists in bluegrass: Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), and Mike Bub (bass).
The original album Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe was recorded in 1976 five years before Pikelny was even born. It contains twelve classic tunes written by the father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe (1911-1996) and performed by his longtime fiddler Kenny Baker (1926-2012). While many outstanding musicians worked for Bill Monroe, Monroe would introduce Kenny Baker to audiences as “the best in bluegrass.”
Baker’s fiddle provided an elegant and refined voice to Monroe’s music and Pikelny accurately transposes Baker’s versions to the banjo note-for-note track-by-track. It is the first bluegrass record that remakes an entire album in sequence though never turning into an exercise in musical impersonation; instead Pikelny uses the Monroe instrumentals as blueprints and catalysts for his own improvisations and those of his band.
Lee Sexton is one of the most respected and revered traditional musicians in eastern Kentucky. A master of traditional banjo styles both two-finger picking and “drop-thumb” (clawhammer) Sexton has lived his whole life near his birthplace in Letcher County Kentucky.
Born in 1927 he grew up in an intensely musical family and community He worked for a week clearing a field to earn the dollar that bought him his first banjo a homemade wooden fretless model with a groundhog skin head that he acquired when he was eight years old With instruction from his father and uncles (one of whom was the legendary banjo player Morgan Sexton Sexton soon mastered the instrument and the fiddle as well He is also a powerful singer whose repertoire includes such classics as “Cumberland Gap” and “Little Birdie.” As a young man he would work all week in the mines and then play music all weekend at house parties, bean stringings and corn shuckings.
In his sixty-five year musical career Lee has been an essential figure in the musical life of his community and one of the foremost tradition bearers of Kentucky’s mountain music heritage He has played from front porches and community dances to radio stations national festivals and college campuses.
He is a regular at Appalshop’s annual Seedtime on the Cumberland festival and at Hindman Settlement School’s Family Folk Week. He was featured in Appalshop’s music video, Whoa Mule, shown on Country Music Television and The Nashville Network and garnered a brief scene in the 198 film Coal Miner’s Daughter based on the life of Loretta Lynn where he appears playing at a square dance. In 1999 he was presented with the Kentucky Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.
Earl Scruggs was born January 6, 1924 in Shelby, North Carolina, in Cleveland County.
For many, bluegrass began when Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe’s band with his blazingly fast three-fingered picking banjo style. It quickly became and remains the standard for the true bluegrass banjo sound.
Earl’s next endeavor, Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, continued his fame and legend through work in films and television. From 1948 until 1969 Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys dominated the bluegrass field due to their residency on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, yet that fame was dwarfed by their huge success in 1962.
In 1962 they recorded the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies leading bluegrass into mainstream American culture. That popular TV show led Flatt & Scruggs’ long-time signature tune, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, to be chosen as the background music for the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. In 1969 Earl sought a more contemporary sound and split with Lester to make music with his sons and other musicians in Nashville.
Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985. Earl Scruggs received the National Heritage Award in 1989, the highest honor given by the National Endowment for the Arts to folk and traditional artists.
Earl Scruggs died March 28, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.