Photo: Alane Anno for IBMAThe music world lost one of its finest when the iconic Earl Scruggs passed away in March of this year. However, the beloved banjo phenom was remembered and revered in an extraordinarily emotional speech given by actor and fellow banjo picker Steve Martin at the 23rd annual International Bluegrass Music Awards Thursday night.
"Before him, no one had ever played the banjo like he did. After him, everyone played the banjo like he did--or at least, they tried," Martin noted from Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium stage, while the crowd clapped in approval.
Martin recalled Scruggs' debut at the Ryman in 1945: "There aren't many earthquakes in Tennessee, but that night there was...On these nights he had the stars of North Carolina shooting from his fingertips."
Martin's speech was so powerful, that he himself seemed to falter with emotion in the middle of it. "All the banjo players I know, including myself, were motivated, influenced, or were given their start when they first heard Earl Scruggs."
To finish off the tribute, Martin ended by noting even the youngest musicians out there are led to the banjo via Scruggs's legendary work. He then introduced 10-year-old prodigy picker Jonny Mizzone, who along with his teenage brothers comprises the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys.
The crowd's appreciative whistles turned to outright roars when the kids were then joined on the Ryman stage by the cream of the bluegrass music scene--dozens of the genre's top banjo players and musicians. (Want the full, exhaustive list? Tom Adams, Eddie Adcock, Jessie Baker, Terry Baucom, Sam Bush, Kristin Scott Benson, Alison Brown, Jason Burleson, Greg Cahill, Jason Carter, J.D.Crowe, Jason Davis, Joe Dean, Steve Dilling, Glenn Gibson, Eric Gibson, Mark Johnson, Doyle Lawson, Laurie Lewis, Del McCoury, Rob McCoury, Lynn Morris, Joe Mullins, Mike Munford, Chris Pandolfi, Graham Sharp, Sammy Shelor, Ron Stewart, Mike Sumner, Tony Trischka, Scott Vestal, Pete Wernick, and Roland White...phew!)
What a fitting tribute to a musical icon who will never be forgotten!