“The Queen of the Banjo”
After the new year, the sad news came that banjo hall of fame member Georgette Twain passed away. Her career in the 50’s included the album “Let My Banjo Sing,” television appearances, and her title of “Queen of the Banjo”. Georgette has an almost indescribable aura to her. She pulls you in with the excitement of her style, yet she remains graceful and calm. She may go down as the best dressed banjo player of all time, but above all she was a kind and talented person who was an inspiration on many levels.
Born in 1925 the daughter of 2 stage actors/musicians, Georgette lived part of her youth in a theatrical boarding house in New York city. Her parents took her to Coney Island almost everyday, which she remembered fondly. The family relocated to the west coast and by the 1940’s Georgette was working in the bay area to pay for singing lessons to become an opera singer.
During this time in the early 50’s she was struck with bulbar polio, a virus that attacks the brain stem. One of the main areas affected by this damage is the control of swallowing and speaking, so Georgette had to give up her hopes of singing. During her recovery the use of her other muscles were compromised as well, and new creative outlets were needed to aid in her rehabilitation. She started making marionettes, and was a member of the Puppeteers of America from there on out. She also began learning the plectrum banjo from her father. She continued on practicing for hours each day and studied under a few well known teachers. One of them was “King of the Banjo” Eddie Peabody, who became her mentor. She is usually seen holding a Vegavox banjo which was Eddie’s trademark (see photo above).
Georgette continued to play on stages in the bay area and across the U.S. on tours, trains, and cruises. She took on students of her own, and many kept in touch through the years. Much after her divorce from her first husband, she fell in love with her daughter’s violin teacher. 32 years later they were finally married and her name became Georgette Twain Sieff. When her daughter Cecelia grew to an adult, she performed with Georgette in a violin/banjo duo at festivals around the country. She was 90 years old, and still performed even in her last years.
While you can catch a few songs in her heyday from the TV appearance on Youtube, I’d like to share a video of Cecelia and Georgette from 2008 on the fourth of July. No banjo player really wants to hear “Dueling Banjos,” but Georgette gives the audience what they want, and delivers some plectrum mojo while waving her finger like it’s a magic wand. Georgette may have had to stop singing, but she never lost her voice.