Prof. Emeritus of English Robert B. Winans, alongside nine other contributing authors, has been awarded the 2020 Nicholas Bessaraboff Prize for the book Banjo Roots and Branches, which he edited and co-authored. This prize is given to the most distinguished English book that best furthers the American Musical Instrument Society's goal to promote study of the history, design, and use of musical instruments in all cultures and from all periods.
During his tenure at Gettysburg College, Winans taught courses in American literature and American folklore. He is also a musician and musical scholar with a focus in banjo history.
The ideation of Banjo Roots and Branches began through conversations Winans and his colleagues had at the 2007 Banjo Collectors Gathering in Philadelphia, now known as the Banjo Gathering, about significant issues not fully addressed in existing scholarly literature on the banjo. The book features essays from many regular Banjo Gathering attendees, including Winans, and explores the banjo’s West African origins, adaptations, and circulation in the Caribbean and United States.
“Through the vehicle of the banjo, the chapters hint of historical connections between musical cultures in those regions of the world,” he says.
Winans anticipates Banjo Roots and Branches being of interest to scholars in a number of fields, including ethnomusicologists, and those who study organology, American vernacular music, New World creolization, and Africana studies. Among these groups of scholars, he also hopes the book will engender further banjo history research.
“I and all of the other contributors to the book are very honored that the American Musical Instrument Society has awarded us their highest prize for the book, the Bessaraboff Prize,” Winans said. “It pleases me and my colleagues that this prize is likely to increase the readership of the book, and it makes all of the effort exerted in creating the book especially worthwhile.”
By Molly Foster