Banjo Sightings Database
Banjo Sightings Database


Three-Dimensional instances of banjos with measurements (in centimeters) and textual analyses covering:
  o extant instruments
  o sculptures, statues, etc.

• Two-Dimensional instances of banjos with textual analyses covering renderings of banjos in:
  o sheet music
  o photographs
  o engravings
  o drawings
  o paintings
  o other media

• Textual instances that refer specifically or indirectly to the banjo, isolating specific information when available (banjo spelling, year of sighting, and geographical location) covering
  o descriptions of banjos
  o people playing banjos
  o mention of any variation of the word “banjo”

• Holding Information for banjo sightings as found in public collections. Information about sightings in private collections will not be made available.

• Secondary Source Information for banjo sightings that have been referenced in publications by historians and other authors.

• Object to Medium Relationships where, for example, a banjo constructed in 1850 might also be documented in an 1853 photograph and described in an 1854 journal entry. Although these three Banjo Sightings are from three different Mediums, they all refer to the same Object.


The idea to centrally organize information about the early banjo was first conceived in 1992 by George Wunderlich. His original intent was to develop a filing system of worksheets and pictures of extant instruments to allow for the accurate reproduction and conservation of surviving 19th Century banjos. By 1996, it became clear that the compiled information in this filing system, when coupled with other primary sources containing banjo-related content (such as sheet music covers, photographs, and textual descriptions), offered additional valuable insights into the banjo’s complex history. In 2002, during a visit to George’s banjo shop, George shared with Greg C. Adams the early banjo community’s vision for a database management system (DBMS)—a system dedicated to documenting what was known about the early banjo. Greg volunteered to head the development of such a database. This website and the underlying Banjo Sightings Database™ are the culmination of four years of planning, definition, experimentation, and implementation.

The dialogue that began in George’s banjo shop quickly expanded to include the input of many stakeholders. As part of a series of ongoing discussions between Greg and George and various members of the early banjo community, the coverage of the database expanded to cover not only surviving instruments, but also historical images, textual primary sources that relate to the banjo, secondary sources that cite each of what we now call Banjo Sightings, publicly accessible holding information, and a way of linking related sightings to one another. Our hope is that the Banjo Sightings Database™ will not only be a tool for the preservation of what is already known of the early banjo, but also a guide for determining what new directions early banjo research needs to take.


Greg C. Adams holds a BA in Music History from Youngstown State University and an MA in Library and Information Sciences from the University of Maryland, College Park. Currently, Greg is working as a photo-archivist for an international organization in Washington, DC. In addition to his professional endeavors and developing the Banjo Sightings Database™, Greg’s independent research on early banjo history includes early banjo performance practice, the study of such West African instruments as the Jola akonting, and the general study of early American black face minstrelsy. Greg regularly performs both historical and modern interpretations of 19th Century popular music throughout the mid-Atlantic region. He currently resides with his wife in Germantown, MD.

Greg has been studying and playing the banjo since 1994. While pursuing an interest in Civil War Era music he was introduced to the early banjo while attending the Maryland Banjo Academy in Buckeystown, MD. By 2000, while studying classical guitar in college, Greg’s interest in the early banjo grew as he began reading Cece Conway’s African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia and Philip F. Gura and James F. Bollman’s America’s Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century. In the summer of 2001, Greg and his wife moved to Frederick, Maryland, intent on taking advantage of the academic and occupational opportunities that Washington, DC and the surrounding region had to offer. It was also at this time that Greg decided he wanted to contribute to early banjo research. After attending the 4th Annual 5ing Banjo Collectors Gathering in Williamsburg, Virginia in November 2001, Greg visited with George Wunderlich in early 2002 to discuss “what needs to be done” with banjo research in general. It was from that meeting that plans were made to develop the Banjo Sightings Database.™

You can learn more about Greg, the music he plays, and the articles he co-authored on his Myspace music page:

George Wunderlich holds an MA in U.S. History from Concordia University and is currently the Executive Director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, MD. He is also on the National Advisory Board of the Missouri Civil War Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. Prior to his work in Civil War Medicine, George previously founded and directed the History Center Inc., a 501(c)3 not-for -profit Corporation, which specialized in the interpretation of mid-nineteenth century American culture. He has also been involved in the development of historically-based education programs for the federal Presidential Management Fellows, the U.S. Military, the National Security Agency, and many others. Some of his other accomplishments relating to the early banjo include co-curator of the 2004 museum exhibit entitled "Birth of the Banjo" (Katonah Museum of Art; Peter Szego and Robert Shaw, co-curators), various consultancies with museum exhibits, and features of his restoration work in numerous exhibits and on film and TV (PBS’ The Woodwright’s Shop, County Music Television’s The Sound of Bluegrass, and PBS’ History Detectives).

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, George was first introduced to the early banjo in 1992 when Jon Isaacson shared with him the historically-informed recordings of early banjo music produced by Dr. Robert Winans and Joe Ayers. That same year, George founded the Wunder Banjo Company, a company dedicated to the reproduction of antebellum 19th Century banjos. In 1993, he began playing “stroke” style banjo under the tutelage of Robert Kilham. In 1996, George and his family moved to Maryland where George could be closer to the major banjo collections of the east coast and also begin to conserve and repair original instruments for collectors around the country. It was the data collected about these instruments that became the foundation for the Banjo Sightings Database™.

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