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Catching the Music

Film by Jackson Frost, Stephen Wade
Produced by Jackson Frost, written by Stephen Wade.
Cinematographer: Steve Howard, Charles H. Ide, Darwin Silver
Sound: Pete Reiniger
Editing: Anthony Black, Bill Coyle, Christi DeLisio
Copyright: 1987, Greater Washington Educational Telecommunications Association, Inc.
54 minutes, Color
Original format: Betacam SP, 1987
Distributor: WETA Public Television
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Home streaming only. For other permissions apply to Jackson Frost, Stephen Wade or to the distributor, WETA Public Television.


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An hour-long WETA-TV documentary on musician Stephen Wade. Catching the Music describes the passing of the banjo from one player to the next. The film includes footage of Kirk McGee, Hobart Smith, Fleming Brown, Doc Hopkins, Roscoe Holcomb, Pete Steele, Uncle Dave Macon, and Virgil Anderson.

Written in 1987 by Stephen Wade, creator of the long-running stage show Banjo Dancing, and produced by WETA’s Jackson Frost, Catching the Music explores a family of musicians tied together not by lines of kinship but by a continuing engagement with the music of the Southern five-string banjo. It begins with Wade who, early on, was drawn to its myriad sounds and its traditional repertory. He learned first from Fleming Brown, a teacher at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music. From the start, Brown advised Wade to concentrate on great performances, advising him, above all, to “find the people who know how to play the music.” This led Wade to Brown’s teacher, Doc Hopkins, an old-time WLS radio singer from Eastern Kentucky. In tracing Hopkins’ and Brown’s influences and inspirations, the film comes to explore other forebears, other practitioners who also share in the music. Their lessons, set in historical and cultural contexts, lie at the heart of this film.

A moving celebration of all those musicians he learned from…making real and immediate what for too many people seems ancient history…Wade is a wonderful emissary, of course, not only in his astounding skill and unflagging energy, but through his mesmerizing passion and devotion to the music and its master musicians. He has made himself known to them, and they have given him back some secrets in return.
--- Richard Harrington, The Washington Post


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