Available October 4, 2022 wherever books are sold.
An illuminating history of the banjo, revealing its origins at the crossroads of slavery, religion, and music.
In an extraordinary story unfolding across two hundred years, Kristina Gaddy uncovers the banjo’s key role in Black spirituality, ritual, and rebellion. Through meticulous research in diaries, letters, archives, and art, she traces the banjo’s beginnings from the seventeenth century, when enslaved people of African descent created it from gourds or calabashes and wood. Gaddy shows how the enslaved carried this unique instrument as they were transported and sold by slaveowners throughout the Americas, to Suriname, the Caribbean, and the colonies that became U.S. states, including Louisiana, South Carolina, Maryland, and New York.
African Americans came together at rituals where the banjo played an essential part. White governments, rightfully afraid that the gatherings could instigate revolt, outlawed them without success. In the mid-nineteenth century, Blackface minstrels appropriated the instrument for their bands, spawning a craze. Eventually the banjo became part of jazz, bluegrass, and country, its deepest history forgotten.
Advance praise for Well of Souls: Uncovering the Banjo's Hidden History
“Nowhere is [the banjo] talked about as a ceremonial instrument, a spiritual instrument—until Kristina's painstaking years-long work to document this unbelievably important aspect… It was incredible. It was unexpected. It was so needed—especially now, in these contentious times--connections to the past that are joyous and beautiful and deep should be treasured. Such as this book."