Teen students in Cleveland, Ohio area recently created and produced “Banjo Sway,” a banjo rap song video that pays tribute to Black musicians like Arnold Shultz, DeFord Bailey, Charlie Pride, and Darius Rucker. Here’s the back story from banjo player/guest speaker Paul Kovac::

“I get asked to give a lecture/demo about country and bluegrass music, and especially about the contributions of Black musicians. This would be at Cuyahoga Community College (Cleveland, OH), for the Reading RAMM Academy, led by Edward ‘Phatty’ Banks. The students were all inner city kids in their early teens. So I give a lecture, and play and introduce a few instruments. The last thing I said was, ‘The most important thing I want you to know is that the banjo comes from Africa.’

“So what I didn’t realize was that Mr. Banks was set up to record, and wanted me to put some banjo down on an instrumental track that he and his students put together, so I did, off the cuff, right there in the classroom in front of them. A month later, he asked me to come back to help them shoot the video. In that month, they wrote lyrics and created a ‘line dance’ that went along with the rap. The three kids doing the rapping are 13-14 years old. When I heard the lyrics, I was kinda knocked out. They took things right from my lecture, as well as from their own research, to make up this song and they really got into it. It was profound to hear young Black students rapping about DeFord Bailey and Arnold Shultz … never thought I’d hear the day.”

Return to the April, 2023 issue of The Cornerstone.