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Joel Walker Sweeney 1810 to 1860

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… was born in Virginia and was an early minstrel entertainer who learned to play the banjo from local plantation workers.

 

He is widely credited with the development of the format of the five string banjo, based on a drum rather than a gourd and including the 5th string, although earlier documentation shows that these features were already in existence.  

 

However he can be credited with being the first to promote and popularise this format amongst white Americans and Europeans and having started playing public in the early 1830s he even toured Great Britain in 1843 with Frank Brower of the Virginia Minstrels who was a bones player and in 1847 he published “Sweeney's Virginia Melodies”.

 

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