Since 1998 the American Banjo Museum has had the annual opportunity to honor the best of the best in the banjo world with induction into the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame. Originally established as The National Four-String Banjo Hall of Fame, early honorees were jazz age four-string banjo pioneers as well as the contemporary artists, educators, manufacturers and promoters who carried on the traditions of their predecessors. In its infancy, our museum itself was an extension of the Hall of Fame.
In the years preceding 2014, more than 70 individuals and entities in the four-string banjo world whose career accomplishments might have otherwise gone unrecognized were honored by the Hall of Fame. However, as time passed and the museum grew to embrace all types of banjos and playing styles, it became clear that the Hall of Fame must evolve as well. As such, in 2013, the ABM Board of Directors voted to establish an annual performance category to honor all styles of five-string banjo playing as well as opening the other previously four-string banjo exclusive non-performance categories to all types of banjos. With this move the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame was established.
With each passing year, the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame grows in acceptance and stature among the worldwide banjo community. The inclusive nature of its mission is seen through its honoring of a diverse body of banjo notables. From iconic names such as Earl Scruggs, Steve Martin, Alison Brown and Belá Fleck to little known – yet equally important – contributors to the art or industry of the banjo, the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame continues to recognize those who have shaped the banjo’s colorful past, exciting present and unlimited future. Like past recipients, honorees for 2021 have each displayed a lifelong commitment to the banjo in one of five categories. The American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame inductees for 2021 are:
JENS KRÜGER - Five-String Performance - Known for his inventive, hard to categorize musical style of composition and performance, the virtuosic playing style of Jens Krüger ranges from the very complex to the simple and profound. As part of The Kruger Brothers, Jens has raised the awareness and stature of bluegrass music by writing and performing classical pieces that incorporate the instrumentation of banjo, guitar and bass into classical music settings. Born in Switzerland, Krüger and his brother Uwe left home to become street musicians. As adults they were billed as the Krüger Brothers, eventually adding a third “brother,” Joel Landsberg, from New York City. Their interest in the music of Doc Watson motivated them to relocate near where Doc lived, in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina in 2003. The intervening years have seen Jens become the 2013 recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass, and The Krüger Brothers becomes a worldwide phenomenon in the world of acoustic music.
BRAD ROTH - Four-String Performance - First inspired as a youngster by his dad’s banjo playing - and later Eddie Peabody, Brad Roth evolved into a serious musician and plectrum banjo artist respected by audiences and fellow banjoists alike. Although dedicated to his aspirations to become a banjo soloist, in 1974 Roth became part of a Dixieland band called the Jazz Minors, performing at the White House, Disneyland and the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. After years as a fulltime Disney performer (including national television appearances on The New Mickey Mouse Club), Roth took a day job which introduced him to banjoist and promoter named Steve Simpson. From that association, Banjomania - a mainstream national banjo act was born. Following Banjomania, Roth has spent the last twenty years as part of the Night Blooming Jazzmen while passing his musical passion on to his daughters and their band Euphoric Swing.
PAUL BUSKIRK - Historical - A stunning multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer, Paul Buskirk’s stellar and deserved reputation as a tenor banjo player happened somewhat by accident. Established as one of the few mandolin players in the 1940s and 50s to challenge Bill Monroe’s preeminence (actually developing a new style of playing the instrument), it was Gene Austin’s suggestion that he apply that technique to the tenor banjo that began Buskirk’s banjo journey. While his career found him writing hit songs and producing platinum albums for Willie Nelson, Buskirk endeared himself to several generations of tenor banjoists who – primarily as a result of his amazing and diverse body of tenor banjo recordings - continue to revere the artistry, technique and new musical voice that he brought to the often maligned instrument.
GREG RICH – Design & Manufacture - With no banjo repairperson in Newport Beach, California, Greg Rich began learning to repair banjos while still in high school. Inspired by nearby banjo collectors, repair work led to Rich crafting high quality replicas of 1920s era Gibson Mastertone banjos. As such, when the modern day Gibson Company wanted to bring back the quality of their golden era banjos, Rich was hired to achieve the task. So successful were his efforts that Gibson banjos produced during his tenure at Gibson (1984-1993) are known and revered today as “Greg Rich Era” banjos among players and collectors. His later partnering with Mark Taylor (forming Rich & Taylor) netted equal quality instruments and set the stage for Rich’s current partnership with the Recording King brand which has introduced high quality, affordable instruments to today’s banjo marketplace.
SCOTT WHITFIELD - Instruction & Education - Well-known as a multi-instrumental performer, vocalist and entertainer, Scott Whitfield has earned equal respect as an educator during an enviable 40+ year career. Seriously educated and versed in musical styles ranging from jazz to blues to country to rock, Whitfield shares his real-world on stage experience with the hungry young musical minds who learn from him and his staff at ScottSound Music near Dallas, Texas. In addition the thousands of students he has taught over the years, writing two banjo method books and developing the curriculum for the International Banjo College, Whitfield has also served as the band director at the Levine Academy in Dallas since 2002. Whether performing on, teaching or promoting the banjo, Scott Whitfield has dedicated his life to the betterment of the instrument and the music it
is capable of creating.
Jens Krüger, Brad Roth, Paul Buskirk, Greg Rich and Scott Whitfield will be inducted into the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame in the Fall of this year. As travel and event restrictions resulting from COVID are lifted, plans for this year’s BANJO FEST activities will be announced. Until then, please join us in congratulating this year’s honorees!
For more information on hours and upcoming events, or to become a member of the American Banjo Museum, visit americanbanjomuseum.com or call at (405) 604-2793.