DEARBORN – What is the happiest musical instrument in the world? If you took a vote among Oakwood Common residents in Dearborn, the banjo would likely win.
Every spring residents and guests are treated to a special banjo concert by members of the North American International Banjo Convention.
For the past several years, Ernie May of Oxford and a third generation banjo player, has organized and led a group of fellow musicians to perform a variety of 1920s and ’30s jazz and Dixieland favorites, including “Alabama Jubilee,” “Carolina in the Morning,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.”
“A lot of the same people come back year after year to hear us play. It’s like family,” May said. “Of course, they notice that we’re getting older.”
This year’s performance was the first for Mary Ann Bassett, a new Oakwood Common resident, who was invited to introduce the group by Activities Supervisor Shavon Baker. “I was nervous, because I hadn’t heard them before so I did a little research on the Internet,” Bassett said.
During her introduction the musicians quickly put her at ease and told her they were “nervous,” too.
As soon as the music started, no one would guess that anyone was nervous. The entertaining performance included 10 banjo players, two guitarists, cellist, percussionist and dulcimer player. When musicians and audience members knew the lyrics to song favorites like “Bill Bailey,” an enthusiastic sing along accompanied the toe tapping and hand clapping.
The group’s performance concluded with a rousing “When the Saints Comes Marching In.”
Stella Rozycki was one of several Oakwood Common residents who shared her appreciation following the event.
“I’ve lived here seven years, and they’ve come every year,” she said. “I really look forward to it.”
May said this year was NAIBC’s 27th annual convention, which is held annually at the Doubletree by Hilton in Detroit. The four-day gathering draws more than 300 musicians and spouses from throughout Michigan, North America and England. Some of the local banjo clubs that participate include the Windsor Banjo Club, Flint Banjo Club and Banjos of Michigan.
May, a retiree, who still works part-time in the Oakland County Sheriff’s office, enjoys having more time to play banjo — solo and with the North Oakland Dixieland Band and other groups.
“It’s like a family when we can all come together once a year for our convention,” May said. “And, we’re happy to know our music puts smiles on the faces of the folks at Oakwood Common.”