Misconceptions about the Banjo:
Ask your average American what type of music they associate the banjo with, and they'll generally list of some form of White folk music: bluegrass, old-time, Pete Seeger-style folk.... However, the banjo is actually a descendent of African musical instruments, and was created in the American and Caribbean colonies by African slaves. It made its way into white music when slaves interacted with white sharecroppers and their music melded.
Lutes made from gourds have been commonplace in Africa for at least a millenium, and it was these lutes that inspired the banjo. Instruments like the kora, xalam and akonting.
Famous Banjo Players:
Many people are familiar with bluegrass, folk and old-time pickers such as Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, Dock Boggs, Bela Fleck, Uncle Dave Macon, Taj Mahal, Tony Trischka, Pete Seeger, and Charlie Poole. However, many people don't know that comedian Steve Martin is a talented bluegrass picker (he even won a Grammy!) and that writer Mark Twain was also a banjoist.
Styles of Banjo Music:
Banjos traditionally have five strings, four of which are tuned for picking. The top string is shorter than the rest, and used as a drone. Four-string banjoes are also common, and used more percussively than the five-string banjo. There are several unique styles of banjo-playing, from clawhammer to Scruggs-style bluegrass.
Banjoes have been blended with several other musical instruments, creating instrument hybrids such as the Banjo-Mandolin ("Banjolin" or "Manjo"), the Banjo-Ukulele ("Banjo-uke"), and the Banjo-Guitar ("Guitjo"). These instruments are often used in folk music, from old-time to Jamaican mento.