Thanks to a collaboration between Ohio-based Z Mandolin designer Lee Zapis, his wife Ageleke, Jamie Deering of the Deering Banjo Company, and the IBMA Foundation’s Arnold Shultz Fund, the holiday season will come a little early this year for the Black Banjo Reclamation Banjo Project, based in the Bay area of California.

The Zapises, generous donors to the IBMA Bluegrass College Scholarship last year, also provided the  Foundation’s Strings to Dreams Bluegrass Raffle grand prize, and agreed to cover the expense of 10 Deering Goodtime Banjos and gig bags needed for the Black Banjo Reclamation Project’s educational program planned for January – March 2022 in Oakland, California.

Jamie Deering, CEO of the Deering Banjo Company in Spring Valley, California, offered a deep discount on the 10 instruments and threw in an extra Goodtime Junior open back banjo for smaller children to use, plus another case and half a dozen sets of strings. “What a wonderful project,” Deering said. “The Deering Banjo Company enjoys collaborating with favorite charities like the IBMA Foundation and the Black Banjo Reclamation Project, and we’re so pleased to help make this project happen.”

The IBMA Foundation’s Arnold Shultz Fund encourages participation in bluegrass music by people of color. Its contributors’ gifts covered tax and shipping, and the big gift box of banjos is on its way to Oakland.

“The focus of the program for the first four weeks will be to learn to play songs on the banjos that allow young African American students the opportunity to connect with different parts of history and different parts of ourselves,” BBRP executive director Hannah Mayree said. “The next four sessions will include woodworking, gourd craft and cultivation, ‘goat stewardship’ [a reference to animal hides used on early banjos] and instrument repair. I am truly grateful, and I look forward so much to being able to provide guidance and support for the folks receiving these banjos.”

There will be 10 in each class, and students from the Oakland and San Francisco Bay area applied last November. By spring they will each be the proud owner of a new Deering Goodtime Banjo and case, as well as a gourd banjo they have built themselves—plus, they’ll have several songs in their repertoire to enjoy and perform.

The Black Banjo Reclamation Project is a nonprofit organization working to reclaim the African roots of the banjo by putting instruments in the hands of African American young people and families who are interested in learning to play. The IBMA Foundation has supported them in the past with donated instruments from banjo player/instructor Casey Henry, of Virginia. “Sometimes it truly does ‘take a village’ to make something good happen,” said IBMA Foundation executive director Nancy Cardwell. “It’s a joy to collaborate with old and new friends like Lee and Ageleke Zapis, the Deerings and Hannah Mayree at BBRP. And what better way to start the new year than with new banjos in the hands of young musicians!”

Photo: Dom Flemons (left) teaches a recent banjo class hosted by the Black Banjo Reclamation Project at the Old Time School of Folk Music in Chicago. 

RETURN to the December 2021 issue of The Cornerstone.