Steve Martin may have showcased his banjo playing skills to the public through his stand-up comedy, but it’s really no joke. He was interested in the instrument from his teenage years and it became a passion that he nurtured throughout his life.
At 76, his ability to act arguably rivals his humorous entertainment writing skills, and that says a lot considering he’s late. Only the murders in the building on Hulu. Martin has collaborated with big names in music while doing bluegrass, including a few country music legends, a Muppet – and even a Beatles!
Read on for fun facts about his career as a banjo player, and experience his incredible skills for yourself. But keep in mind that this doesn’t even scratch the surface of Martin’s banjo content library!
Steve Martin’s banjo skills are self-taught
Fans of Martin may know that he introduced his banjo on stage during his first comedy routines. But he once said ABC News he fell in love with the instrument through bluegrass. He learned to play with friendly help.
âI was about 15,â he says. “There was a craze for folk music led by the Kingston Trio and Pete Seeger and the banjo was introduced into that music, and that quickly led me to bluegrass music.”
He explained that playing the banjo is a skill that takes hard work, but he used it in his comedy for a reason. “I thought it was probably good to show the audience that I can do something that looks difficult, because that act makes it feel like I’m just making it up.”
It worked for Martin, and the banjo became a memorable part of his comedic image.
Steve Martin wrote “Pretty Flowers” with Dolly Parton on vocals
Some fans will be delighted to feast their ears with a musical collaboration between Steve Martin and Dolly Parton. Martin wrote the waltz called “Pretty Flowers” and he plays the banjo, while Parton sings with his compatriot Vince Gill.
Of course, the sweet song is a treat! But the album – “The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo” – also earned Martin a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in 2010.
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featured Paul McCartney in “Best Love”
Notably, Martin has also recorded hit albums with Grammy-winning bluegrass group The Steep Canyon Rangers. “Best Love” even features guest voices from Paul McCartney. That is, Sir Paul McCartney of The Beatles. It’s almost wrong that more people aren’t talking about this song.
Steve Martin went viral playing his banjo in 2021
In August 2021, Martin went viral after posting a short clip of himself playing his banjo. With little output, he casually sat down in front of the camera – maybe even in his own backyard – and tore himself up. Fans applauded him in the comments, with many noting that they forgot that he even played.
“Banjos duel” with Kermit the frog
Impressively, Martin has been friends with the Muppets for around 40 years, making his first appearance with them on The puppet show in 1977. That’s why it’s always a fan delight when he returns to the Swamp with Kermit the Frog.
Martin and Kermit playing “Dueling Banjos” is a low key joy. Of course, Martin’s game is remarkable, but Kermit playing alongside him is just good, healthy hilarity.
The Banjo Prize started out as $ 50ka per year of Steve Martin’s own money
Martin launched his Banjo Prize initiative in 2010 and has donated $ 50,000 per year to a skilled banjo player for ten years. After realizing the original vision, he partnered with the FreshGrass Foundation, which is now co-funding the award.
The initiative now features “an annual award of $ 25,000 to one or more banjo players across the stylistic spectrum, including 5 and 4-string banjo masters.” Their continued mission is to âpreserve, support and create innovative popular musicâ.
So besides being an awesome banjo player and working with an array of stars, Martin has done a lot to help others tear their strings out in the future. His commitment to the longevity of banjo music is arguably as impressive as his self-taught teenage talent becoming a 60-year-old Grammy-winning craft.
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