Photo by Alyse Horn
The Pittsburgh Banjo Club practicing for patrons on December 11, 2013 at the Elks Lodge.
By Alyse Horn
After 25 years of keeping “America’s native instrument” alive, the Pittsburgh Banjo Club shows no sign of slowing down.
On Wednesday, December 18, the banjo club played for a packed house at the Elks Lodge #339, 400 Cedar Ave.
Even though the clubs anniversary party has passed, banjo club founder Frank Rossi said the week before Christmas is one of its biggest nights during the year.
The club plays at the Elks Lodge, as they do every Wednesday, from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., with the tunes ranging from Dixieland, polka, sing-alongs, vocals, banjo solos and music from the 1920s and 1930s.
The club is a non-profit organization that was started in 1988 by Rossi after he moved to North Hills from Long Island. In New York, he had been part of the Long Island Banjo Club and upon moving said he had the urge to start a prominent banjo presence in the area.
“I put out some newspaper ads that [promoted starting] a banjo club, and 15 people contacted me right away,” Rossi said.
Today, Rossi said the club has around 80 members ranging in ages from 13 to 90 years old. Out of those members, about half are able to show up on Wednesday night’s for the public practices at the Elks Lodge.
This year the banjo club raised $13,000, and over the course of its 25 years the club has collectively gathered and donated over $90,000. Rossi believes that by the end of 2013, the club will have managed to raise $100,000. Rossi said all of the money is donated to different charities that club members find worthwhile.
Some of those charities include the Northside Common Ministries Food Pantry, Brother’s Brother Foundation and the Carnegie Library.
According to the website, the club is able to raise the money from its performances at banquets, parties, concerts and “any other gathering where the happy sound of the banjo is needed.”
Rossi said that the Pittsburgh Banjo Club consists mostly of the four-string jazz banjo, but all musicians are welcomed. There are currently trumpets, bass, a clarinet and a tuba that accompany the banjos, making the Dixieland and march music all the more enjoyable.
Rossi said that banjo night is so successful because it’s something to be enjoyed by an older and younger crowd.
“Older people like it because it brings back memories of the songs when they were young and young people like it because they’ve never heard it before,” Rossi said.
Nicole Sinwell, who recently moved to the Northside, would be whom Rossi considers part of the younger crowd.
Sinwell said she has been to banjo night about five times thus far and keeps coming back because of the fun atmosphere.
“It’s a place to hear awesome music that can’t be heard anywhere else in the city,” Sinwell said.
More information on the banjo club can be found on their website, http://home.earthlink.net/~pittsburghbanjoclub/.