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Circleville Banjo Player Tony Ellis is Featured by PBS
Circleville, Ohio, banjo player Tony Ellis (pictured at right) is featured in “Give Me The Banjo,” a documentary history of the instrument narrated by Steve Martin.
The program aired at 9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 4, 2011 as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival and was followed at by “Tony Ellis’s Quest,” a new half-hour documentary about Ellis produced by WOSU.
Martin, himself a banjo player, is a fan of Ellis and describes his playing as being especially lyrical.
Though Ellis played in the early sixties with Bill Monroe, who created bluegrass music, Ellis has since written music for the banjo that focuses on melody and simplicity. “I wanted my music to be more than three chords and a cloud of dust,” he explains. He’s also taken the instrument out of the traditional bluegrass ensemble and placed it alongside the harp, pump organ, and slide guitar.
Martin is such a fan of Ellis that he invited him to perform with him in concerts and on The David Letterman Show. He recently interviewed Ellis for The Banjo Newsletter, a magazine for banjo enthusiasts.
In “Tony Ellis’s Quest,” Ellis talks about his love for the banjo, his efforts to come up with arresting melodies, his numerous tours abroad with his band, The Musicians of Braeburn, and his love of paddle-wheel boats and life on the river. The program also features Ellis playing many of his original compositions.
The program was supported by a grant from the Ohio Arts Council.