Roger Sprung, banjo virtuoso of NYC folk scene, dies at 92

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, May 25, 2024


Roger Sprung, banjo virtuoso of NYC folk scene, dies at 92
Roger Sprung and and his longtime collaborator Hal Wylie perform at a bar mitzvah at a restaurant in Brooklyn in 1972. Sprung, a banjo virtuoso and key figure in New York’s midcentury folk music revival, whose innovative picking and genre-mashing audacity earned him the unofficial title of the godfather of progressive bluegrass, died on July 22, 2023, at his home in Newtown, Conn. He was 92. (Barton Silverman/The New York Times)

by Alex Williams



NEW YORK, NY.- Roger Sprung, a banjo virtuoso and key figure in New York’s midcentury folk music revival, whose innovative picking and genre-mashing audacity earned him the unofficial title of the godfather of progressive bluegrass, died July 22 at his home in Newtown, Connecticut. He was 92.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Nancy Sprung.

A New York City native who honed his skills early on by playing mountain music festivals in Virginia and the Carolinas, Sprung began his career in the parks and folk clubs in and around Greenwich Village and went on to become an inspiration for the modern bluegrass known as newgrass.

In the late 1950s, he played with a folk trio, the Shanty Boys, who recorded for Elektra Records. He later performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and made appearances on television in the 1960s backing popular country and pop singer Kay Starr on programs like “The Jimmy Dean Show.”

In 2020, Sprung was inducted into the American Banjo Museum Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, which cites the Kingston Trio and Béla Fleck as having been influenced by him. Steve Martin, another Hall of Fame member whose banjo prowess was a cornerstone of his early comedy act, has owned a Gibson RB-18 five-string that once belonged to Sprung.

“An argument could be made that Roger Sprung was the first progressive five-string banjoist,” Johnny Baier, the museum’s executive director, wrote when Sprung was inducted. “While his contemporaries in bluegrass were experimenting in swing in the 1940s and ’50s, Sprung was expanding the acceptable banjo repertoire to include — in addition to swing — ragtime, pop and classical styles as well.”

To Sprung, musical styles existed to be cross-pollinated.

“People say, ‘Do you play bluegrass?’ — and they expect ‘Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms’ and things like that,” he said in a 2006 video interview. “But bluegrass is an instrumentation, and if you do the instrumentation, you can play anything. I got Mozart, I got rags — ‘Maple Leaf Rag,’ Scott Joplin.”

In 1970, Sprung was proclaimed the World’s Champion Banjo Player at the Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention in North Carolina. That same year, he drew a rave review from John S. Wilson of The New York Times for a New York concert, backed by the Progressive Bluegrassers, which included a longtime collaborator, guitarist and singer Hal Wylie.

Venturing into a “high register to get sound that resembles a mandolin,” Wilson wrote, Sprung “made an interesting use of glissandos, produced by twisting the string pegs, particularly in a schottische” — a traditional country dance — “that required a Hawaiian guitar effect.”




Roger Howard Sprung was born Aug. 29, 1930, in New York City, the younger of two sons of Sam and Ethel Sprung. His father was a lawyer. Roger took piano lessons while growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and was soon laying down boogie-woogie numbers.

His musical direction changed one Sunday in 1947, when his brother, George, took him to hear a group of folk musicians jamming in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Before long, he bought a banjo and began learning bluegrass picking by slowing down 78-rpm records featuring Earl Scruggs, essentially the king of bluegrass banjo.

Sprung was 20 when he began his annual pilgrimages to the South, where he steeped himself in old-time banjo techniques while playing festivals with the likes of Samantha Bumgarner, a celebrated mountain music banjo player.

He also became skilled in the traditional clawhammer banjo style, which involves playing with the back of a finger and a thumb, as opposed to bluegrass style, which employs picks worn on the index and middle fingers and the thumb.

He brought those rustic sounds back to his bustling hometown and was eventually credited with helping to introduce Southern bluegrass to New York’s flourishing folk scene. At nearly 6-foot-3-inches tall, with his colorful personality and trademark homburg hat, Sprung was suddenly an attraction.

“I went to Washington Square every Sunday, weather permitting, and the crowd got bigger and bigger,” he said in a 2021 video interview with the American Banjo Museum.

He soon joined Starr on tour, and his career was on its way. He formed his first band, the Folksay Trio, in about 1954. In 1963, he released the album “Progressive Bluegrass 1 and Other Instrumentals,” on the Folkways label, with flat-picking bluegrass guitar master Doc Watson. He also recorded two albums with his first wife, Joan Sprung, whom he divorced in 1972.

Along the way, Sprung was a sought-after banjo instructor. His students included singer-songwriter Harry Chapin.

In addition to his second wife, Nancy, Sprung is survived by his daughters Jennie and Emily.

Though he had made his living off the banjo, Sprung said later in life that he would not advise younger players to follow in his footsteps. “I wouldn’t make it a career, but playing a banjo is real enjoyment,” he said, adding, “As Kay Starr said, ‘It’s hard to play a sad song on a banjo.’ ”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.










Today's News

August 4, 2023

He spent decades collecting Presidential signatures. Then lost them in an instant.

Gagosian Rome presents an exhibition of new works by contemporary artist Alex Israel

'Chewing Gum VI' to show how globalization can dispel and dissolve cultural differences at Pace Gallery

The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza restores Fra Angelico's painting of The Virgin of Humility

European artist creates architectonic sculpture specifically for Oklahoma Contemporary

Affordable Art Fair launches new Austin location and welcomes fair director

Tate Liverpool exhibition showcases radical new approach to collecting art

Artists from four continents bring together various cultural backgrounds at Elizabeth Xi Bauer

National Nordic Museum exhibits new sculpture by Jónsi, 'Iridian light vs loom evil'

Kitenge Banza's exhibition 'Inhabiting the Imaginary' will be on view at the PHI Foundation starting today

Acclaimed British artist Noj Barker launches new art at airports with exhibitions at Heathrow and Gatwick

The Menil Collection opens "The Iconic Portrait Strand" by Nestor Topchy

Lawrence Abu Hamdan's first solo presentation in Scotland on view at Talbot Rice Gallery

With 'Talk to Me,' directors leap from phone screens to the big screen

'Closer' by Magda Kirk now open at the GR gallery offers a fresh twist on her traditional vision

Loughran Gallery is currently exhibiting 'Extinct' based on the childhood obsession of Dave White

Experience the stunning story quilts of artist Tina Williams Brewer

5 minutes that will make you love Miles Davis' electric period

Roger Sprung, banjo virtuoso of NYC folk scene, dies at 92

Hollywood writers and studios to restart talks after 3-month standoff

Paris bookstalls are told to relocate during next year's Olympics

Postpartum Self-Care Routine: 7 Ways To Help Your Mind and Body Heal

SEO Secrets for Explosive Ecommerce Growth: Unveiling the Power

Modern Architecture in Houses in the Philippines: Redefining Contemporary Living

How To Find The Right Color Code For Your Wall

How To Donate an Art Collection With This Superb Strategy

Dive Into The World Of Excitement With SBOBET's Extensive Variety Of Sports And Games

SBOBET's Features, Odds and Bonuses As The Premier Betting Platform

10 Tips for Creating Exquisite Digital Art in Photoshop: An Easy-to-Follow Guide

How the Plumbing Service Works

Dealing with the Devastating Impact of Spinal Cord Injuries in Garland

Turning Tragedy into Triumph: Legal Steps after a Bike Accident in McKinney




Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 



Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful