OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KSWO) –One the second and final day of the One Tank Trip series in Oklahoma City, 7News anchor David Bradley shows us an attraction in the Bricktown entertainment district that might seem a little out of place.
It's the American Banjo Museum, with the largest collection of banjos on public display in the world. Founded in 1998 in Guthrie and relocated to Oklahoma City in 2007, it tells of the instrument's evolution from its humble African roots in the 1600s through the classic era in the late 1800s.
"People were so serious about the banjo, they were playing it like a concert instrument, in concert halls, with classical music and great pomp and circumstance. It was really a high point of musicianship for the banjo," said Johnny Baier, the executive director of the American Banjo Museum.
However, the banjo reached its peak popularity during the jazz age in the roaring 20s.
"The banjo became the quintessential sound of that era. It's like the electric guitar of today. In the 1920s, people who played the banjo could be superstars, and their banjos represented their level of status, with gold plating, engraving, bejeweled with all sorts of gems. They were really works of visual art, as well as being great banjos," Baier explained.
Now, it's known as the voice of bluegrass and folk music. Thanks to actor and comedian Steve Martin, the prestige has also returned. The museum currently features a special exhibit, called "The Banjo World of Steve Martin," which provides an intimate look at his musical side, and the impact his fame has had in exposing the banjo to millions of new fans.
Since the exhibit opened last year, attendance at the museum has increased 60%.
"Our hope with the American Banjo Museum is to tell the story, the colorful story of the evolution of the banjo, and how the banjo has been inextricably tied to American pop music and its evolution, as well as our history. If you look into American history within the last couple hundred years, there's not a banjo too far away from any of those scenes," Baier said.
The next stop in the One Tank Trip series is in Norman.