Entertainment TED Talks

6 talks involving a banjo

The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys captivate the audience at TED2013. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

The Sleepy Man Banjo Boys captivate the audience at TED2013. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Jonny Mizzone didn’t come from Alabama with a banjo on his knee. No, this 11-year-old virtuoso hails from the state of New Jersey, where he and his two older brothers discovered the magic of bluegrass legends J.D. Crowe, Ralph Stanley, Clarence White and Earl Scruggs through YouTube. When he was eight years old, Mizzone posted a video of himself playing the banjo on Google’s video site, backed by brothers Robbie, now 14, on fiddle and Tommy, now 15, on guitar. The three shot into the stratosphere as YouTube sensations themselves, with many television appearances and two albums following. Soon J.D. Crowe nicknamed Jonny the “old midget,”  in disbelief that someone so young could play the banjo so well.

Sleepy Man Banjo Boys: Bluegrass virtuosity from ... New Jersey? Sleepy Man Banjo Boys: Bluegrass virtuosity from ... New Jersey? At TED2013, the brothers — known as the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys thanks to the way Jonny liked to play while lying on his back with his eyes closed – thrilled the audience with three bluegrass-inflected ditties. We dare you not to delight as the three pass the lead from fiddle to guitar to banjo, grinning at each other all the while.

Interestingly, the origin of the word “banjo” is hotly contested. According to Wikipedia, some think the word is of Western African origin, while others believe it is Spanish or Portuguese. Either way, the instrument’s plucky sound has had a big impact on the TED stage. Here, more TED performances and talks involving the banjo.

Abigail Washburn: Building US-China relations ... by banjo Abigail Washburn: Building US-China relations ... by banjo Abigail Washburn: Building US-China relations … by banjo
This TED Fellow thought she was going to study law in Beijing to work to improve US-China relations through policy … until a chance encounter with a Doc Watson song revealed a new way to approach this challenge.
David Holt: The joyful tradition of mountain music David Holt: The joyful tradition of mountain music David Holt plays mountain music
In this talk from TED2004, folk musician David Holt plays the banjo and shares the hilarious wisdom of Aunt Zip, a 105-year-old woman from the Appalachian Mountains.
John Francis: Walk the earth ... my 17-year vow of silence John Francis: Walk the earth ... my 17-year vow of silence John Francis walks the Earth
John Francis took a vow of silence for 17 years, and spent three decades traveling the globe by foot to hammer home the message of environmental respect. At TED2008, he not only talks … but plays the banjo.
Sleepy Man Banjo Boys: Teen wonders play bluegrass Sleepy Man Banjo Boys: Teen wonders play bluegrass Teenaged boy wonders play bluegrass
Another bravura performance from the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys. It was this great act during our Worldwide Talent Search that brought the brothers to the TED2013 stage.
Mena Trott: Meet the founder of the blog revolution Mena Trott: Meet the founder of the blog revolution Mena Trott tours her blog
Mena Trott started a blog in 2001, sharing funny stories of her life. In the talk, she shares a post she wrote about wanting to buy a $300 banjo and having her husband tell her no. The reaction to it changed how she felt about the medium.