Cynthia Sayer and Terry Baucom have been honored as the recipients of the 2023 Steve Martin Banjo Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass, an annual accolade presented by The Freshgrass Foundation, The Steve Martin Charitable Foundation, and Compass Records. Each awardee will be granted a $25,000 cash prize.
Tragically, Terry Baucom of North Carolina, aged 71, succumbed to Lewy body dementia on December 7, shortly after learning about his selection as one of the winners. His family will accept the prize on his behalf. While the Banjo Prize encompasses various banjo styles, Sayer and Baucom were recognized for their prowess in the 5-string bluegrass and 4-string plectrum banjo styles. Steve Martin expressed his sentiments in a press release, stating, “Once again, we are all honored to acknowledge these dedicated and highly skilled musicians.”
Baucom’s journey into banjo playing commenced at the age of 10, inspired by The Beverly Hillbillies, as mentioned in the release. Beyond contributing to his father’s band, he went on to establish The Dukes of Drive and Boone Creek, the latter featuring talents like Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas. His musical repertoire extended to various bands, and he also ventured into solo projects, releasing albums such as Never Thought of Looking Back in 2013. This album boasted guest appearances by notable figures like Sam Bush, Marty Raybon, and Tim Stafford.
Residing in New York City, Cynthia Sayer has collaborated with diverse artists, ranging from bassist and photographer Milt Hinton to the late actor George Segal, who, much like Martin, was a skilled banjoist and shared the stage with the comic actor. Sayer’s musical pursuits include performances with the New York Philharmonic and The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, earning her induction into the National Four-String Banjo Hall of Fame in 2006.
The Banjo Prize, initiated by Steve Martin in 2010, aimed to distribute 10 prizes and contribute $500,000 to the banjo community within a decade. Previous awardees encompass notable names like Rhiannon Giddens, Jake Blount, and Jens Kruger. In 2019, the Banjo Prize evolved by collaborating with the Freshgrass Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to “preserve, support, and create innovative grassroots music,” according to their mission statement. Presently, the Banjo Prize is an annual recognition, with recipients receiving $25,000 each.