banjo, stringed musical instrument, with a body resembling a tambourine. The banjo consists of a hoop over which a skin membrane is stretched; it has a long, often fretted neck and four to nine strings, which are plucked with a pick or the fingers. Slaves brought it to America (by 1688) from W Africa, to which it may have come from Europe or Asia. It was played in minstrel shows in the 19th cent. It is used frequently in hillbilly and Southern folk music. Because of an incisive, percussive quality, it is often used as a rhythm or a solo instrument in Dixieland bands.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.