The Converse Collection

Converse 1880

Titles will link to the Internet Archive

Frank B. Converse did not invent the banjo, but he made it complete. 

Called “The Father of the Banjo,”  Converse was born in Elmira, NY in 1837.  He lived just long enough to see it drop from popular culture (died 1903).  Running away as a teenager to join a minstrel troop, he eventually left us a lifetime of work in print.  His “Analytical Banjo Method” has not been excelled by any banjo publication to date.  I’ll be so bold as to say the there would be no Earl without Frank.

Frank B. Converse’s Banjo Instructor Without a Master, by Frank Buchanan Converse, 1865. This is the first of two banjo instruction books from 1865.  This work attempts to walk the student through the tunes note for note ( and a bit annoying).  Called “The Little Yellow” in the hobby.  Try and find one of the reprints, they make a great addition to your case pocket. 

Frank B. Converse’s New & Complete Method for the Banjo, by Frank Buchanan Converse, 1865. This is the first real banjo instruction book.  One of two that FBC produced in 1865, this one is called in the hobby “The Green Book.”  Many Great pieces in this one. This is also the first book to spell out guitar style playing, though that actually method applied to the banjo shows up much earlier. 

Frank B. Converse’s Banjoist, by Frank Buchanan Converse, 1871.  This one was long missing, but not any more.  This was originally sold as Converse’s personal collection of music. Filled with some decent stuff, as well as some really advanced pieces, it shows a higher level of banjo music.  A very cool piece imitates bagpipes.  And it is yours for free thanks to Marc Smith. 

The Banjo & How to Play it, by Frank Buchanan Converse, 1872. This one is in the same format os the 1865 “Yellow” book but has better music.  Of interest is “Kentucky Juba,” that is an exercise to teach using both Banjo Style and Guitar Style.  The right hand fingerings use only the thumb, second and third, the first likely wearing a thimble.

Frank B. Converse’s Analytical Banjo Method, by Frank Buchanan Converse, 1886.  A complete and scientific course on the banjo covering Guitar and Banjo styles.  This is the Banjoists bible.  A true textbook. This is the most important work on the banjo to have ever been written to date.  And it is yours for free thanks to Marc Smith.

Hitchcock’s Banjo Collection; 230 Easy Pieces for The Banjo, by Frank Buchanan Converse, 1887.  This was one I did not know about until Bob Winans told me about it.  After a phone call to the Boston Public Library and a inter library loan request, we now have it available again.  It is a relevant work with great variations on “known” pieces, as well as a bunch of “new” stuff to play with.

Frank B. Converse’s Banjo Songs, by Frank Buchanan Converse, 1887.  A huge collection of “standard songs for the banjo” arranged by Converse.  Many tasteful preludes to well known songs, several with stroke style accompaniments.  This work also contains “Leaning on the Garden Gate” with alternate lyrics for a female singer.

Interestingly, in the introduction he suggests using a capo to transpose the pitch of the banjo

The Banjo Made Easy, by Frank Buchanan Converse, 1893. This is a great book.  Not as advanced as the ABM, and he might have been criticized for the ABM being too advanced.  This contains many of the same pieces as the 1886 book but drops the Stroke Style section all together. Available from the Hamilton College Digital Library .

Converse Standing
Converse Sitting
Converse & Peel 1

Banjo Reminiscences Written Exclusively for The Cadenza, by Frank B. Converse. 

If you do not know who F.B.C. is, then you should sell your banjo and use the money to buy a Zither “banjo.”

This is a series of letters to The Cadenza magazine recounting Converse’s career.  We are lucky that he put pen to paper before he passed on.  We are even more lucky that Banjoist Carl Anderton has offered to share his research with us by putting this together.  PDF was created by banjo historian Greg Adams.  This work has recently been self published and placed in Amazon for sell, it is free here.

Mrs. Harriet Maxwell Converse

This is Frank Converse’s incorrectly marked gravestone in Elmira, NY.  Frank’s wife, Harriet, died less than a month after after he did.  Somewhere in the process the registration card got filled out incorrectly.

© Joel Hooks 2020