Banjo player Mark Johnson, who combines a clawhammer style with the three-finger style of bluegrass picking to create a unique hybrid sound, is the recipient of the third annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Johnson will appear on CBS’s “The Late Show with David Letterman” on Sept. 24 to perform and receive his prize.
The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass provides the winner with a cash prize of $50,000 and a bronze sculpture. The award was created to bring recognition to an individual or group for outstanding accomplishment in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music. Besides Martin and his wife Anne Stringfield, historian Neil V. Rosenberg and the banjo players J.D. Crowe, Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka, Alison Brown, and Béla Fleck determine the recipient.
This year’s winner lives in Bronson, Fla., where he is the director of Levy County’s emergency operations. He learned clawhammer banjo technique in 1970s from fiddler Jay Unger in New York. He moved to Florida in 1981 where he learned bluegrass from Tony, Larry, Ronnie and Wyatt Rice. Johnson performs on weekends and holidays.