Happy Juneteenth!

Happy Juneteenth! 

Here in the United States, we celebrate Juneteenth today. This is sometimes known as Emancipation Day. On June 19th, 1865, Union troops under the command of General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. Granger was finally able to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln two years earlier and freed the African American people still enslaved in Texas. 

We’ve celebrated a lot of African American music in my sheet music shop over the past two years since I’ve been open. I thought it would be appropriate to send out a couple extra tunes just for today. 

Part of my work over the last couple of years has been transcribing some of the early banjo tutors. This music originated in the southern plantations in the 18th and 19th centuries, primarily by enslaved African American musicians. The first instructional banjo book was published in 1855. I encourage you to get a free copy of my transcription with the links below. I have the entire book transcribed for both banjo and ukulele. Even if you don’t play those instruments, you might enjoy reading the introduction I wrote. I also included mp3s of each tune as played back by my computer.

Banjo edition: https://kylegrayyoung.gumroad.com/l/briggsbanjo

Ukulele edition: https://kylegrayyoung.gumroad.com/l/briggsukulele 

The ukulele edition was recently featured in Ukulele Magazine. Jim D’Ville wrote a lovely article which you can read here:


By 1866, Emancipation Day celebrations started popping up around the country. At the same time, the banjo books that were getting published generally had quite a bit of racism in them. The racism was specifically aimed at African Americans, the culture bearers of this instrument. One of the few books that actually has a couple tunes that celebrate Juneteenth is Winner’s Primary School For The Banjo, published in 1874. I’m including the tabs for two banjo tunes, Emancipation Day and Civil Rights Juba

Emancipation Day is a nice tune that combines traditional stroke style playing with the relatively more modern guitarstyle. You can play the first half in stroke style and then start plucking the chords in measure 9 in guitar style, either with the flesh of your fingertips or with your fingernails/fingerpicks. I put a repeat sign at the end because I believe this one is worth playing at least twice. This tune shows up a few years later in one of S.S. Stewart’s books with the name Emancipation Jig. (It’s not really a jig, Mr. Stewart…)

Civil Rights Juba is a fascinating piece and great for beginners. Juba is most often used as the first tune in the banjo method books so you can learn stroke style. It’s a very simple piece that requires you to strike down on the first note with your index fingernail. Then for the second note, you play that with the flesh of your thumb. Then you can continue that pattern for the rest of the song. It feels like clawhammer, right? Occasionally you’ll need to drop your thumb down to the second string, such as the last note in measure 4. And that would be drop-thumbing, or double-thumbing in clawhammer vernacular. Like I said, this is generally used as the first tune in each banjo tutor. But in Winner’s book, it gets to have Civil Rights added to the title and included among the rest of the tunes as its own piece of art, not with any special instruction at the beginning. This is originally named after the African American dance called pattin’ juba or hambone. Participating musicians would use their body for percussion. This juba dance could be used to keep time for more rhythmically complex dances. Consider how it feels like you’re keeping steady time while playing Civil Rights Juba

In addition to the banjo tabs, I’ve also included ukulele versions of both tunes. While the same banjo playing techniques don’t always apply to ukulele, I think they still work pretty well and sound nice like this. Mp3s are included in case they’re helpful in learning the songs. You can get the pdfs and mp3s for free in my sheet music shop with the link below. Let me know if you have questions. 


Happy Juneteenth! 


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