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Paul Cadwell Banjo Collection

Musical History, Division of (NMAH, SI)  Search this
Cadwell, Paul, 1889-1985  Search this
Reed, Frances  Search this
American Banjo Fraternity.  Search this
Bowen, Bill  Search this
Bradbury, Frank  Search this
Cadwell, Joyce  Search this
Denton, Harry  Search this
Farland, Alfred  Search this
Van Eps, Fred, 1878-1960  Search this
Former owner:
Musical History, Division of (NMAH, SI)  Search this
12 Cubic feet (28 boxes)
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
Sheet music
Sound recordings
New York (N.Y.)
The bulk of the collection is music for the five-string banjo, often with piano and/or second banjo accompaniments. Almost no sheets have cover illustrations. Many editions are British and rarely have copyright dates.
Scope and Contents note:
The collection documents banjoist Paul Cadwell (1889 1985). Most of the material originally belonged to him; exceptions to this include photographs of Frances Reed (Cadwell's first wife), travel ephemera of Frances Reed, banjo music of William Brewer, and banjo history writings of Brewer. British banjoist William Brewer corresponded regularly with Cadwell through the 1950s. Though they never met, a close friendship developed between the men. After Brewer's death, Brewer's son mailed his father's banjo materials to Cadwell (see correspondence from Basil Brewer). Series 8, "Reed Travel Ephemera," is largely unrelated to both Cadwell and the banjo most items date from before Reed's marriage to Cadwell. This series is unprocessed as of this writing. Most of Cadwell's audio recordings (both discs and tapes) fell outside the museum's collections scope and so were not kept. A complete inventory, however, has been attached at the end of this register.

The bulk of the collection consists of music for the five string banjo, often with piano and/or second banjo accompaniments. The Cadwell and the Brewer banjo music have been placed in separate subseries. The Cadwell music is organized alphabetically by title of composition; much of this material is fragile and a majority of the music is in manuscript rather than published scores. The Brewer subseries maintains his careful organization: alphabetical by composer or arranger separating the American from the British composers/ arrangers. Almost no sheets have cover illustrations. Many of the editions are British (which rarely give a copywrite date).

Bluegrass and folk banjo music from the second half of the 20th century, when written, was written in tablature. "Classic" five-string banjo music is written in standard notation with some adaptations. The Brooks and Denton compositions were given in both standard notation and tablature and an arrangement of "Dueling Banjos" is in tablature. All other banjo compositions are written in standard notation. Some compositions are in C notation, others were transposed to A. Earlier in the 19th century, the banjo sounded in A and the music was written in A. With the technological changes in banjo construction of the late 19th century, the pitch of the banjo went up and generally sounded in C. The British were quick to switch to C notation, but American banjoists, wedded to tradition, were slow to make the change.

Cadwell had music in both C and A notation; presumably, he could play both. Adaptations to standard notation include the following indications for which finger should pluck the string: + = thumb, = first finger, = second finger. "12 B " indicates that the marked section should be played using a barre at the 12th fret. A sixteenth note flag up high G (high E in A notation) is used when the note should be played on the short thumb string.

Most of the music is for standard five-string banjo. There is a small amount of music for four-string tenor or plectrum banjo (as well as a few selections for mandolin and guitar). Two forms of the five string banjo appear in the music collection: the banjeurine and the zither banjo. The banjeurine was popular in banjo clubs, slightly smaller, tuned higher, and usually played lead. The zither banjo is peculiar to Britain. The two highest strings are of metal and the lower strings of the "classic" standard gut, nylon, or wound silk. The banjo has a resonator, but unlike American banjos with resonators, the head sits flush with the resonator. Many of the British compositions are labeled for zither banjo and are intended to take advantage of the peculiarities of that instrument's sound.
The collection has been organized into the following series:

Series 1: Correspondence, 1941-1976 Series 2: Photographs, circa 1895-1980 Series 3: Ephemera, 1922-1978 Series 4: Banjo Music, circa 1883-1975 Series 5: Magazines and Journals, 1886-1977

Series 6; Banjo History Sources, circa 1951-1975

Series 7: Audio Recordings, circa 1895-1976

Series 8: Reed Travel Ephemera, circa 1930-1970

The Cadwell music is organized alphabetically by title of composition; much is fragile and in manuscript rather than published scores. The Brewer subseries maintains his careful organization: alphabetical by composer or arranger, separating American from British composers/arrangers.
Biographical/Historical note:
Paul Cadwell was born in 1889 in Westfield, New Jersey. He lived nearly all of his life in New Jersey and New York City. He began playing banjo at the age of ten. His first teacher was Fred Van Eps, a young man who already had been making commercial recordings of banjo ragtime and popular tunes. Van Eps continued to record frequently through the 1920s.

From the 1880s to the 1910s most American Universities and all of the Ivy League schools had banjo clubs. These organizations played orchestra style with various sizes of banjos. Cadwell played with college banjo clubs at both Princeton (class of 1910) and Harvard Law School. After law school, Cadwell studied for a time in England at Trinity College, Oxford. He spent his adult life working as a lawyer and in various business dealings.

After his schooling, Cadwell continued to perform on the five string banjo. In the 1920s he organized and performed in minstrel shows for the American Legion and the Masonic Lodge. During the 1930s he played occasionally on the "Dutch Masters" radio hour as a member of the "Van Eps Trio." Cadwell began his involvement with American folk music in the 1940s playing for the American Folk Dance Society and on NBC radio for "Music of the New World." During the 1950s, Cadwell became involved in the folk music revival and he befriended revivalist and bluegrass musicians, notably Roger Sprung.

In 1949, a group of older "finger style" five string banjoists created a formal organization; the American Banjo Fraternity (ABF) still meets twice a year in Lewistown, Pennsylvania though the original banjo notables are now deceased. Paul Cadwell, Fred Van Eps, Alfred Farland, Harry Denton, Bill Bowen, and Frank Bradbury (names familiar to fans of this style of banjo playing) were all members. Cadwell was a bit younger than the others and also had never made his living playing vaudeville or making commercial recordings as had these other men. The heyday of their music surely had passed, but they banded together to keep the tradition.

Cadwell sensed in the folk revival of the 1950s a revitalization of the five string banjo. Most of the other ABF members saw these young banjo players as a threat to their music; they played with metal stringed instruments and with what seemed to them a simplistic technique. The correspondence in series 1 traces the painful conflict between Cadwell and the ABF members over the folk music revival. Cadwell continued to perform in folk revival events into the 1970s.

Cadwell married Frances Reed in 1956 (they had been a couple, though, for many years). Many of the photographs in series 2 and most of the travel ephemera of series 8 were hers. In 1965 he married Joyce. Paul Cadwell died in 1985.
Related Materials:
The Division of Culture and the Arts holds related musical instrument parts (banjo head, banjo strings, and banjo bridges).
Collection donated by Joyce Cadwell, 1991.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Travel photography  Search this
Musicians  Search this
Musical groups  Search this
Banjo  Search this
Banjoists  Search this
Banjo music  Search this
Sheet music
Sound recordings
Photographs -- 20th century
Correspondence -- 1930-1950
Paul Cadwell Banjo Collection, 1883-1980, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
See more items in:
Paul Cadwell Banjo Collection
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

5 string banjo : America's national instrument. [sound recording]

Bacon, Fred  Search this
Shawnee, Ted  Search this
Magee, Alexander  Search this
Bradbury, Frank  Search this
Physical description:
1 phonograph record : analog, 33 1/3 rpm ; 12 in
Americans  Search this
Anglo-American  Search this
Musical sound recordings
Folksong revival  Search this
Banjo  Search this
Local number:
Americana 770
Restrictions & Rights:
Restrictions on access. No duplication allowed listening and viewing for research purposes only
See more items in:
Moses and Frances Asch Collection, 1939-1986 228428
Data Source:
Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections

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