Tony Thomas

Tony Thomas is one of the leading historians of banjo origins and the history of African American banjo playing.  

Along with Sule Greg Wilson and Cece Conway, Thomas organized the 2005 Black Banjo Gathering at Appalachian State University that launched the contemporary Black Banjo revival.  

“Why African Americans Put the Banjo Down,” his contribution to Duke University Press’s Hidden in the Mix, published in July 2013, was the first scholarly article on the banjo written by African American.   

His “The Colored Champion Banjo Pugilist of the World and the Big World of the Banjo,” on Black Banjoist Gus Cannon,w as published in 2018 in the University of Illinois Press’s anthology "Banjo Roots and Branches" in IUP’s  Music in American Life Series. His “The Banjo and African American Musical Culture”,a photo essay, was published online in 2014 by the Oxford African American Studies Center, an online resource maintained by Oxford University Press and Harvard’s Dubois Center.  They also published Thomas’s biographical essays on African American Fiddler Joe Thompson and on the legendary 19th century banjo figure Picayune Butler.  

Tony Thomas was an advisor to, and appears in, the Marc Fields PBS Film "Give Me  the Banjo."  He contributed to Field's "Banjo Project" which documents banjo history. He was an adviser to and a major participant in Jim Carrier’s film "The Librarian and the Banjo".


Thomas has presented many times at the Banjo Collectors Gathering, the primary banjo-history conference  as well as at Banjo Camp North, the Suwanee Banjo Camp, the Blue Ridge Old Time Music Week at Mars Hill College, Britain’s “Sweet Sunny South” Festival, and at universities and teacher education conferences.  


He has performed as a banjoist, guitarist, and singer and as a solo performer at old time music, banjo, folk, bluegrass, and blues venues and festivals across the United States, as well as in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Sweden.  He has also worked as banjoist and guitarist with New York’s Ebony Hillbillies.

He holds a Master of Fine Art in Creative Writing from Florida International University and has published literary fiction and poetry as on African American and African studies and socialist politics since the 1960s.


Tony Thomas was born in Manhattan in 1947, grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, has lived in Washington DC, New York, California, Georgia, and Washington, and has resided in Florida since 1982.  He currently lives in West Palm Beach, Florida. He has been visiting Berkeley since 1969 and has worked at the University of California at Berkeley and at the Center for Independent Living.

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OUR FUNDERS:  We greatly appreciate the generous support of Ed Littlefield, Jr.; Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), in partnership with the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Surdna Foundation; the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission; the Alameda County Art Commission; and the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation. 

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Extra-special thanks to our Valiant Volunteer Coordinator, Lael Sigal, and of course to all our volunteers – they make the BOTMC possible!


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