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Stephen Wade Brings The Banjo's History To Life In One Man Show in Milwaukee

Bonnie North

The strum of the banjo is a distinctly American sound. 

Credit Bonnie North
Stephen Wade performing.

The earliest forms of the banjo came to this country with the West African slaves during the middle passage, and since then the instrument has become a centerpiece in Southern musical traditions.

A new show at the Milwaukee Rep explores the banjo and American folk music. 

The celebrated American folklorist and performer Stephen Wade has settled into a two month run at the Stackner Cabaret with his show The Beautiful Music All Around Us. It runs through March 15.

Wade has been fascinated with the banjo ever since he was a child. He’s turned that passion into a lifelong quest to uncover and document American folk songs and playing styles. He’s played at the White House, on Broadway, and is now here in Milwaukee.

He joins Lake Effect's Bonnie North to discuss the banjo's history and play a few tunes.

"The idea of the banjo as a metaphor for America I think is true," Wade says. "Here's a music brought here by black musicians, and shared with mountain whites to make a new music for us all."

Listen to a few tunes played live by Wade:

Stephen Wade playing an unnamed tuned on a small birch wood banjo.

Wade playing "Elzic's Farewell."
Stephen Wade plays "a new tune that sounds old written by traditional musician Tony Ellis."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.