Hall of Fame Celebration – BANJO FEST – October 12-14, 2023
2023 Hall of Fame Inductees
Long before there was an “American Banjo Museum,” there was a National Four-String Banjo Hall of Fame. Established in Guthrie, Oklahoma in 1998 and during the 15 years that followed 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. In its infancy, the American Banjo Museum itself was an extension of the Hall of Fame, bestowing annual honors upon jazz age four-string banjo pioneers as well as the contemporary artists, educators, manufacturers and promoters who carried on the traditions of their predecessors.
However, as time passed and the American Banjo 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 2023 have each displayed a lifelong commitment to the banjo in one of five categories. The American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame inductees for 2023 are:
BUCK TRENT – Five-String Performance - Born and raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Buck Trent was performing on local radio stations by age 11. He moved to Nashville in 1959 where he joined the Bill Carlisle Bandand first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. Stints as a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and Porter Wagoner's Wagon Masters set the stage for his unforgettable performances with Roy Clark on Hee Haw from 1974 to 1982. The recipient of numerous awards from the Country Music Association and Music City News, Trent joined Roy Clark as part of the first country music act to tour the Soviet Union prior to taking up a long-standing residency as one of Branson, Missouri’s premier entertainers.
KURT ABELL – Four-String Performance - Throughout a fifty-plus year performance career, Kurt Abell has tirelessly worked to prove that the banjo is an instrument in a class by itself. Career highlights include playing at the Red Garter Saloon in San Francisco in the early 70's, television and movie appearances, a ten-year relationship with the Washboard Wizardz, headlining banjo festivals from coast to coast, performing as a jazz musician in Europe and Asia, and appearing as a guest artist with the Modesto Symphony. Abell has over a dozen recordings to his credit and most recently appeared with the Catsnjammer Jazz Band, Kurt Abell and his Rhythm Knickers, The Creole Jazz Kings, and Galen Drake & Athens Abell - LIVE. His technique of teaching banjo artistry is close to his heart, but performing is his passion.
GRANDPA JONES – Historical - Louis Marshall “Grandpa” Jones was born in 1913 in Niagara, Kentucky and spent his teenage years in Akron, Ohio where he began singing country music tunes on a radio show on WJW. By the late 1930s he took on the “Grandpa” persona, learning to play banjo and joining the WLS Barn Dance in Chicago. After serving in WWII, in 1946 Jones joined the Grand Ole Opry, becoming a mainstay of the institution for decades. However, Jones period of greatest national recognition began in 1968 when he became a regular on the long running Hee Haw television program. When Grandpa Jones passed away in 1998, the banjo world lost one of its most beloved ambassadors.
AKIRA TSUMURA – Promotion - Although born in Japan, Akira Tsumura has had a lifelong affection for American popular culture. This musically manifested itself in 1956 when Akira became interested in Dixieland jazz and acquired his first banjo. The music and instrument ignited his banjo passion and, after earning a degree from the University of Michigan, he began amassing what would become the finest and most comprehensive collection of vintage banjos ever assembled. In addition to well over 1000 instruments, Tsumura’s collection included enough banjo related statuary and ephemera to fill several museums. His legendary book, One Thousand and One Banjos remains a definitive work which mirrors his passion for historically significant vintage banjos.
NORBERT PIETSCH – Design & Manufacture - In a small shop located in Bremen, Germany luthier Norbert Pietsch is hand-crafting custom instruments which many players around the world consider to be the finest banjos ever made. Favoring exacting and precise specifications to mass production, Pietsch does his own woodwork, metalwork, carving, inlaying, engraving and finishing. A one-man operation, Pietsch’s mantra is to provide the working musician with a banjo which produces full and balanced sound, is easy to play and beauty to behold. His many international supporters from Stephen DiBonaventura to Ken Aoki to Sean Moyses all feel he has achieved his goal.
Buck Trent, Kurt Abell, Grandpa Jones, Akira Tsumura, and Norbert Pietsch will be inducted into the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame during the weekend of October 12 through 14, 2023 as part of the annual BANJO FEST weekend in Oklahoma City. The Hall of Fame inductions will be a highlight of a full weekend of performances, jamming, workshops, and socializing. Full details will be announced in early summer. Until then, please save the dates, plan to be with us in Oklahoma City in October, and join us in congratulating this year’s American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame honorees!