Anni Beach and Banjam 2021 in Arizona

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This article, written by Anni Beach, originally appeared in The Cornerstone, the newsletter of The IBMA Foundation. They have agreed to let us republish it to reach a wider audience. It also helps explain why she was chosen as Mentor of the Year in 2019 in the IBMA Momentum Awards for her work with JamPak, teaching youngsters to play bluegrass music.

James Reams of James Reams & the Barnstormers is a dear friend of Jam Pak, the weekly program in Chandler, Arizona, we organized to offer bluegrass lessons and jamming opportunities to kids, and he has been since we met him in 2012. He truly has a heart for the Arnold Shultz legacy and his idea helped to create the [Arnold Shultz] fund.

James called and urged Jam Pak to write for a grant from the fund. Banjam 2021 was born! We went to BASEArizona (Black Alliance Social Empowerment), a new nonprofit organization right here in Chandler and they were thrilled with our idea to have a program for African American youth and adults to learn banjo and upright bass. The idea fit perfectly with their newly formed Afro Scouts project, which includes arts and music for young people. We wrote for the grant and so the collaboration includes two organizations: Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass Neighborhood Band and BASEArizona.

It’s so thrilling to see what takes place here at the Jam Pak Home for one hour every Monday night. We are into our third month of weekly lessons, and Banjam already performed twice for the Chandler Juneteenth celebrations. What a thrill! We have eleven young African American banjo students and four bass students along with three coaches. The parents all come, too, and gather in “The Woodshed” for coffee and chatting. They watch the lessons on Zoom! A new community of music is forming.

This Little Light of Mine, actually of African American origin, is the first song they have all learned and performed for Juneteenth. Imagine all these young folks, having never even held a banjo before, now learning to sing and play, and learning the history and recognition of the African American heritage of bluegrass and roots music.

Jam Pak manages all details of the project. We already had the instruments on hand, and everyone has a good one to take home for practice. The two adult coaches receive a stipend for their work. Lucy, the younger coach, also a member of Jam Pak, works hard for her high school community service hours.

Although Jam Pak has always been diverse, with its roots right here in my immigrant neighborhood, to be able to start a specific program like Banjam is a fantastic opportunity to spread the love and joy of making bluegrass music to those who have not had such an opportunity to participate.

Thank you so much to IBMA Foundation and the Arnold Shultz Fund.

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