EARL SCRUGGS’S FAMED BANJO DONATED TO THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME® AND MUSEUM’S PERMANENT COLLECTION
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — May 22, 2023 — This afternoon, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum celebrated the donation of the legendary musician, bluegrass pioneer, and Country Music Hall of Fame member Earl Scruggs’s storied Gibson RB-Granada Mastertone banjo to the museum’s permanent collection.
Scruggs played the iconic banjo throughout his more than 60-year career, including in concerts, on TV sound stages, and in the recording studio with Flatt & Scruggs and the Earl Scruggs Revue. The banjo can be heard on Scruggs’s famous composition “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” by Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs & the Foggy Mountain Boys – showcasing his innovative three-finger picking style that would influence generations of musicians and expand the possibilities of the instrument across the world. The Gibson banjo remained Scruggs’s primary instrument until his passing in March 2012.
The celebration of this monumental gift featured performances illuminating Scruggs’s influential career. Guests on hand to perform include:
- The Earls of Leicester, with “Salty Dog Blues” and “Rollin’ In My Sweet Babies Arms”
- Sierra Ferrell, with “Before I Met You”
- Alison Brown performed “Earl’s Breakdown” on Scuggs’s donated Gibson banjo. She was joined onstage by the Earls of Leicester in reuniting and playing four other original instruments used by Flatt & Scruggs, including Lester Flatt’s Martin D-28 guitar from the museum’s permanent collection.
In addition to performing, the Earls of Leicester served as the backing band throughout the event. The band features an all-star lineup of musicians: Jerry Douglas (dobro), Shawn Camp (lead vocals and guitar), Jeff White (mandolin), Johnny Warren (fiddle), Daniel Kimbro (bass), and Charlie Cushman(banjo).
Vince Gill, Country Music Hall of Fame member and president of the museum’s board opened the ceremony. He thanked the Scruggs family for their generosity and offered his perspectives on the banjo and its donation. “It’s so valuable to the history of music, and the history of Earl and his family,” he said.
Museum CEO Kyle Young shared stories of Scruggs’s musical impact and the significance of the instrument, which will now be preserved in perpetuity by the nonprofit museum and held in the public trust. Scruggs’s banjo, previously on loan, joins an elite list of historical instruments donated to the museum’s collection over the years, including Mother Maybelle’s Gibson L-5 guitar, Bill Monroe’s Gibson F-5 mandolin, Lester Flatt’s Martin D-28 guitar, Cowboy Jack Clement’s Gibson SJ-200 guitar and more.
“These artifacts are unique historical treasures,” said Young. “They connect us to the lives of creative geniuses who forged the enduring sounds of our music. Today, we are grateful and elated to celebrate the donation of another such treasure – Earl’s Gibson RB-Granada Mastertone banjo – an instrument made iconic by the creative power of the master musician who wielded it.”
Earl’s grandchildren, Jaime, Jesse, and Lindsey Scruggs, who joined together to donate the banjo to the museum, were in attendance. Lindsey Scruggs spoke of Earl’s legacy on behalf of the family, offering thanks to the museum for its stewardship of the country music story, as well as the seminal instruments that continue to influence musicians across generations. The Scruggs family also donated many other historic items to the museum’s collection, including important artifacts and documents that chronicle the legacy of Earl, his beloved wife, and pioneering business manager, Louise, and the successful musical careers of Earl’s children, Gary and Randy Scruggs. Items include a parlor guitar owned by Earl’s father, Louise’s fold-out desk from childhood, as well as audio and video recordings, among other items.
Prior to Brown’s performance with the Earls of Leicester, Jerry Douglas spoke about the importance of the banjo’s donation and the original Flatt & Scruggs instruments being reunited again on stage for the first time in more than 50 years. “These instruments are the reason why I play music at all,” said Douglas.
Following the ceremony, Scruggs’s Gibson RB-Granada Mastertone banjo was returned to the museum’s galleries. The banjo is on display in the museum’s Precious Jewel core exhibition, alongside several other iconic instruments.
The donation ceremony will be available to watch in its entirety on the museum’s website later this week.
About the banjo
Made in 1930, the banjo also happens to be a rarity. Fewer than twenty of this particular model were built by the Gibson company. Scruggs acquired the instrument in a trade with banjoist Don Reno in 1949. In the friendly swap, Reno received a different Gibson banjo model. Because the Granada banjo was slightly damaged, Reno also offered Scruggs a Martin guitar in the deal.
Shortly after he acquired the Granada Mastertone, Earl along with Lester Flatt, and the Foggy Mountain Boys recorded his famous instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and the banjo can be heard on many other classic bluegrass tunes like “Flint Hill Special,” “Randy Lynn Rag,” “Ground Speed” and more.
About Earl Scruggs
Born in Cleveland County, North Carolina, on January 6, 1924, Earl Scruggs perfected and popularized an innovative banjo-picking style that became an essential building block of bluegrass. Scruggs was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985 as part of the influential bluegrass duo Flatt & Scruggs. He was a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys from 1945 to 1948 and performed as Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys from 1948 to 1969. In 1969, he formed the Earl Scruggs Revue with his sons Randy, Gary, and Steve, where Scruggs was able to extend his reach creatively. He soon embraced other major collaborations, such as the landmark Will the Circle Be Unbroken album, released in 1972 by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and The Storyteller and the Banjo Man, with Country Music Hall of Fame member Tom T. Hall, in 1982. In the new millennium, Scruggs won yet another Grammy with a new version of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” He remained a creative force in music in his later years, regularly inviting Nashville pickers into the Scruggs home to make a joyful noise. Read more about Scruggs’s musical contributions in Flatt & Scruggs’s Hall of Fame member bio.