Buddy Wachter 2020 Steve Martin Banjo Prize Winner

2020 Prize Winner: Buddy Wachter

Born on February 3, 1953 in Baltimore, Maryland, Buddy displayed a natural talent and love for music at an early age. Inspired by hearing Flatt and Scruggs play the Beverly Hillbillies theme every Wednesday night, he began studies on the banjo at age nine, soon adding the guitar, mandolin and bass. By age 13 he was performing regularly in bands around Baltimore. Buddy first gained national attention in 1969 when the Vega Banjo Company of Boston arranged for him to perform with the legendary banjoist Eddie Peabody in an exhibition called Banjo Spectacular at the Palladium in Hollywood. That same year, at age 16, he auditioned for the Fred Waring Show and a month later he was offered a job. In 1970, he graduated a year early from high school and began his professional career as a guitar and banjo player touring with the famed “Pennsylvanians.”  Over the next two years he logged nearly 200,000 miles to hundreds of cities throughout North America. 

Since then, Buddy’s life has been has a campaign to bring the four-string banjo to the world’s concert stages. Exploring a wide variety of musical styles from jazz to pop, as well as his own compositions and adaptations of virtuoso classical works, he has remained at the cutting edge of four-string innovation for over forty years. In 1982, the German SR television network sponsored Buddy’s first European tour which culminated in the taping of a TV concert special: “BUDDY LIVE!”  The program received wide acclaim by European critics and its popularity has taken Buddy back to Europe regularly for concert tours and jazz festivals.

Since 1990, Buddy has performed and lectured in over a hundred countries as a musical ambassador for the U.S. Department of State. His performances, talks and workshops have introduced the instrument to some of the remotest parts of the world. This has helped to unite the international banjo community. Buddy also appears regularly as a soloist with symphony orchestras. Since his Carnegie Hall debut with Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops in 1992, he has been guest soloist with over two hundred orchestras, worldwide. Highlights of recent symphonic appearances include the Boston Pops New Year’s Eve special, and a PBS television special “Stars and Stripes Forever” with the Charlotte Philharmonic.

Buddy has six recordings with his quintet and one with symphony orchestra. He has published numerous articles and instructional materials for the banjo, and leads weekend workshops regularly. He has created a library of more than thirty works for banjo and orchestra through new transcriptions, arrangements and original compositions. This has created a strong presence for the banjo in the world of orchestral music.