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Shorewood Native Made An Incredible Discovery About Banjos

Dena Epstein's banjo research is chronicled in an upcoming film to be screened at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival on Oct. 26.

Dena Epstein is pictured with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Pictured from left are filmmaker John Whitehead, Rhiannon Giddens with daughter Aoife, Dena Epstein, Justin Robinson and Dom Flemons.
Dena Epstein is pictured with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Pictured from left are filmmaker John Whitehead, Rhiannon Giddens with daughter Aoife, Dena Epstein, Justin Robinson and Dom Flemons.
Today, the banjo can be heard in bluegrass, country and folk music.

But the true origins of the stringed instrument may have went unknown if it wasn't for the research of a librarian from Shorewood.

Dena Epstein, now 96 years old, was the first person to take on old myths about the banjo and prove its African-American origins and West African roots. Her work shattered myths about the roots of American music, and has been described as “monumental.” 

Her research is recounted in a 56-minute documentary, titled "The Librarian And The Banjo," which will be shown at the 15th annual Milwaukee Short Film Festival. "The Librarian and the Banjo" will be screened at noon on Oct. 26 at the Milwaukee Art Museum's Lubar Auditorium.

The film features interviews with Epstein, academics, banjo historians and musicians including the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka and Eric Weissberg.

Epstein devoted 25 years to researching black music. Her work "Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War" was published in 1977 by the University of Illinois Press. She attended the University of Chicago, where she received a bachelor of art in music in 1937, and later in 1943, a master of arts in library science from the University of Illinois. 
CowDung October 15, 2013 at 05:34 PM
It appears that the caption on the picture is wrong--it names 6 people, but it looks like there are only 5 in the photo. I'm guessing that John Whitehead is named, but not in the pic.
midwestmoviemaven November 14, 2013 at 02:26 PM
Milwaukee County-Sad news Folks who *did not get to attend or support The Librarian And The Banjo screening missed out on just an incredible, moving, inspiring documentary. The subject and Shorewood, WI native, history making music researcher #DenaJuliaEpstein passed away last night just shy of her 97th Birthday. We send our condolences to the family, and the Filmmaker Jim Carrier who brought us her remarkable journey to film now on DVD. Also it will truly be the grandest MKE screening opportunity to "encore" this film if our #MKESFF2013 sponsor @WcmMke Wisconsin Conservatory Of Music does indeed get to include it in their "MOAD" curriculum!

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