The Slave Trade Roots of the Banjo With Detroit’s Aaron Jonah Lewis

Aaron Jonah Lewis’ latest album is called “Mozart of the Banjo: the Joe Morley Project,” a release that looks back in time to tell the dark history of the banjo to audiences today.

Bradley Lohman
Bradley Lohman

Aaron Jonah Lewis is one of the most accomplished banjo players in the United States — and he’s based right here in Detroit.

His latest album is called “Mozart of the Banjo: the Joe Morley Project,” which honors the musical legacy of the 19th century English composer and musician.

Lewis will perform selections from the album today at the Ark in Ann Arbor, accompanied by a cello, piano and banjo-ukulele as well as poem readings.

When Lewis visited the WDET studios in Detroit to perform a trio of tracks, he was accompanied by pianist Kevin Celestia who will join him on stage at the Ark as well.

In interview with CultureShift’s Ryan Patrick Hooper, Lewis explained the history of the banjo which has its roots in west Africa arriving on American shores during the transatlantic slave trade beginning in the 1600s but would eventually become a key cog in minstrel performances decades later.

Click the player above to hear musician Aaron Jonah Lewis perform and discuss the instruments history.

Aaron Jonah Lewis will perform at The Ark in Ann Arbor on Jan. 16, 2019. $20.

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  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.