Bricktown Thursday became known for more than a hot spot for clubs and hip restaurants as Banjo legend Earl Scruggs led a who’s-who of musicians in celebrating the opening of the American Banjo Museum. The $5 million, 21,000-square-foot museum completes the attraction’s move from Guthrie where it was started by Midwest City attorney Brady Hunt and Indiana industrialist Jack Canine.
Buddy Wachter, a renowned four-string banjo player, noted that for years the history of banjos was stored away in collectors’ closets, leaving the art form hidden from later generations.
"Now we’ve got this place, which is filled already — and we’ve got far more than you can see, just like the Smithsonian, which has far more than you can see,” Wachter said.
The museum showcases more than 300 instruments, the largest collection on public display in the world. Examples include replicas of primitive banjos developed by African slaves in the Old South, Minstrel Age instruments from 19th century, post WWII instruments used in bluegrass, folk and world music, and museum’s core collection of ornately decorated banjos made in America during the Jazz Age of the 1920’s and 30s.
Once the ribbon was cut by Canine, whose own banjo collection started the museum and whose donations made the new museum possible, visitors made their way inside where they saw a display of the sort of slave shack where banjo music got its start. Other displays included a recreation of a vintage Shakey’s Pizza, which celebrated banjo performances and ragtime music.
"When you hear a banjo, you can’t help but smile,” said Johnny Baier, American Banjo Museum executive director. "Museum guests will be transported to a whole new world of sound and history as they walk through the doors of the magnificently renovated Bricktown warehouse. The banjo truly is America’s instrument.”
The dedication ceremonies had just ended when a full tour bus pulled up to the curb with travelers set to dine at the adjoining Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant. Jim Cowan, director of the Bricktown Association, was happy to inform the tour guide the museum was open and ready for his passengers to add an unscheduled visit.
"With additions like the American Banjo Museum and the recent opening of the Academy of Contemporary Music, we’re showing that Bricktown is about more than just restaurants and nightclubs,” Cowan said. "I believe even more is possible, and I’d like to see us add even more attractions like the Toy and Action Figure Museum (which is currently in Pauls Valley).
Lt. Gov. Jari Askins agreed the museum is a great addition to Bricktown.
"The music and instruments on display at the American Banjo Museum are unique treasures, and Oklahoma is honored to add a collection of this caliber to our state,” Askins said. "Fans of all music will be drawn to the museum. It is a major win for Bricktown and Oklahoma.”