Uncle John Scruggs

Never heard of this gentleman until today so sharing what I learned….

He was born in 1855 to Henry and Betsey Scruggs, both a parents and child were slaves in Buckingham County, Virginia. He became well-known in the 1920’s and 30’s for his banjo playing. He played the 5 string banjo in what is called the clawhammer style which is based on the picking direction.

The folk ballad he is playing and singing is called “Little Log Cabin Round the Lane”  written by Will S. Hays in 1871 for the minstrel trade. The song is written in  a dialect format.  By the mid 1900’s the lyrics and dialect had changed, steering away from the more objectionable wordage.


A mural titled “All in the Family II” (located at the Sherrod Library, East Tennessee State University) painted by Marianne DiNapoli-Mylet, pictures John Scruggs between Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs,









Fortunately we do have one film that has survived showing his talent with his grandchildren dancing to his music…  Filmed on November 8th, 1928 in Powhatan, Virginia.

One note that needs to be made…. Fox Movietone News, who created the newsreel has been known to stage musical productions in front of such dilapidated homes or settings. So while the authenticity of the reel footage is questionable as in what the family members wore or where they lived, there is no doubting the talent of Mr. Scruggs and that is the interest here, his skill.


Uncle John Scruggs https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncle_John_Scruggs

Clawhammer  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clawhammer

Music and Sound in Documentary Film by Holly Rogers Rutlege Publishers 2015 pages 50 -51

“Little Log Cabin Round the Lane”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Old_Log_Cabin_in_the_Lane


About jasterling

One part of my life is in the science of anthropology and archaeology where I did comparative work. My other life that I am now pursuing is writing along the lines of fantasy/sci fi fictional writing as my one way to stay sane in this other insane world. Please enjoy the selections you will find in my blog.
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