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Banjo is one of the classic instruments in American music history which is part of many cultural aspects. There are lots of extremely skilled banjo players so we tried to present our list of greatest banjo players in history, considering their skill and influence on developing instrument history. Here we go!
1. Earl Scruggs
Earl Scruggs was born in 1924 and is one of the most influential banjo players of all time. He is known for his three-finger picking style which he developed in the 1940s. This style revolutionized banjo playing and has influenced countless banjo players since. Earl Scruggs was a member of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass band in the 1940s and later formed The Foggy Mountain Boys with his brother Lester.
The group had a number of hit records including “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” which was used in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. Earl Scruggs was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. He died in 2012at the age of 88.
2. Steve Martin
Maybe the most popular and well-known artists from this list. Steve Martin is a banjo player, comedian, actor, and writer who was born in 1945. He began playing banjo when he was 17 years old and became quite skilled at it. Steve Martin has won several Grammy Awards for his bluegrass banjo playing, including one for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 2001.
He has also written a banjo instructional book called “The Banjo Zone.” In addition to his banjo playing, Steve Martin is also known for his comedic work on television and in films such as The Jerk, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, and Parenthood.
3. Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger was born in 1919 and is one of the most influential folk musicians of all time. He is known for his work as a singer, songwriter, and social activist. Pete Seeger was a member of the folk group The Weavers in the 1950s. The group had several hit records including “Goodnight Irene” and “On Top of Old Smokey.”
Pete Seeger was also instrumental in popularizing the banjo in the United States with his banjo playing on The Weavers’ recordings. He continued to play and perform until his death in 2014 at the age of 94.
4. John Hartford
John Hartford was born in 1937 and is a banjo player, fiddler, composer, and songwriter. He is best known for his 1967 composition “Gentle on My Mind” which has been recorded by many artists over the years. John Hartford also wrote the theme song for the television show The Beverly Hillbillies.
John Hartford also wrote and performed the theme song for the 1971 film The Boy Who Could Fly. He appeared as a banjo player in the 1980 film Melvin Goes to Dinner and won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2002. John Hartford died in 2001 at the age of 63.
5. Alison Brown
Alison Brown is a banjo player, composer, and producer who was born in 1961. She is the founder of the record label Compass Records and has won multiple Grammy Awards for her work as a banjo player and producer.
Alison Brown has won two Grammy Awards, one for Best Contemporary Folk Album for her album “Stolen Moments” and one for Best Instrumental Composition for her composition “The Lucky One.” She has also been nominated for several other Grammy Awards. Alison Brown is known for her innovative style of banjo playing which combines elements of bluegrass, jazz, and world music. She has released 11 solo albums and has been featured on over 150 recordings by other artists.
6. Ralph Stanley
Ralph Stanley was born in 1927 and is a bluegrass singer and banjo player. He is best known for his role in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, for which he won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
He is also known for his work with The Stanley Brothers, a duo that he formed with his brother Carter in 1946. The Stanley Brothers had several hits, including “Oh Death” and “I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow.” Ralph Stanley continued to perform and record after Carter’s death in 1966. He won a Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 2002. Ralph Stanley died in 2016 at the age of 89.
Ralph Stanley has been inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Grand Ole Opry. He died in 2016 at the age of 89.
7. Roy Clark
Hard to put this legend so low on this list, but remember, this is not the top list, and the rankings are not listed from best to worst. Roy Clark was born in 1933 and is a banjo player, guitarist, and singer. He is best known for his work as a cRoy Clark was born in 1933 and is a banjo player, guitarist, and singer. He is best known for his work on the television show Hee Haw, where he was a co-host and featured performer from 1969 to 1997. Roy Clark has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry.
He has won multiple Grammy Awards, including one for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 1982. In addition to his banjo playing, Roy Clark is an accomplished guitarist and has won the National Fingerpicking Guitar Championship twice.
8. Grandpa Jones
Grandpa Jones was born in 1913 and was a banjo player and singer who is best known for his work on the television show Hee Haw. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1996. Grandpa Jones died in 1998 at the age of 84
Some interesting details about his life are that he served in the US military during WWII, and he was married to Ramona Riggins from 1934 until her death in 1964. He then married Dorothy Williams in 1967
Grandpa Jones was known for his high energy performances and his comedic timing. He was a talented musician and could play several instruments, but he was most well-known for his banjo playing.
9. George Formby
George Formby was born in 1904 and was a banjo player, singer, and comedian who is best known for his work in films such as Keep Fit (1937) and Spare a Copper (1940). He was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. George Formby died in 1961 at the age of 56
He was born into a family of entertainers, and he started performing at a young age. He gained popularity in the 1930s with his comedic performances and banjo playing. George Formby was also an accomplished boxer and won several championships.
10. Bela Fleck
Bela Fleck was born in 1958 and is a banjo player, composer, and producer. He has won 14 Grammy Awards, including three for Best Instrumental Performance. Bela Fleck has been nominated for an Academy Award and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. He is considered one of the most innovative and accomplished banjo players of all time
He started playing banjo at the age of 15, and he was self-taught. He has toured with many different artists, including The Grateful Dead, Dolly Parton, and Phish. Bela Fleck has also composed music for film and television, including the theme song for the television show Cosmos.