Well, THIS is kind of cool. Jens Kruger, a banjoist and member of the Kruger Brothers band, has won the above-named prize, which comes with $50,000 in cash and the opportunity to appear onstage and on TV with Martin. The band’s PR is handled by my friend and classmate Julie Macie, whose job, I suspect, just got both harder and more rewarding. Here’s the news release:
NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Jens Kruger has been named as the fourth recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music. Kruger is known for his innovative banjo composition and performance that integrates folk music with European classical music. Kruger is the first North Carolina resident and first winner that born outside of the United States.
Kruger is known for his inventive, hard to categorize musical style of composition and performance, which can be described as thoughtful and lyrical. His virtuosic playing style ranges from the very complex to the simple and profound. Jens Kruger and The Kruger Brothers have raised awareness about bluegrass music by writing and performing classical pieces that incorporate the instrumentation of banjo, guitar and bass. The Kruger Brothers consist of Jens Kruger (banjo, harmony vocals), Uwe Kruger (guitar, lead and harmony vocals) and Joel Landsberg (bass, harmony vocals).
Born in Switzerland, Kruger and his brother Uwe left home to become street musicians. As adults they were billed as the Kruger Brothers, adding the third “brother,” Joel Landsberg, from New York City. Their interest in the music of Doc Watson motivated them to relocate near where near Doc’s home in North Wilkesboro, NC in 2003. They had the honor often playing with Doc.
The Steve Martin Prize, created and endowed by Martin, includes a $50,000 honorarium and recognizes an individual or group for “outstanding accomplishments in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music.” Each year’s winner is selected by a committee of noted banjo players, including Martin, Pete Wernick, Béla Fleck, Alison Brown, J.D. Crowe and others.
Regarding the award, Kruger said, “Coming to this country as an immigrant and to be accepted so warmly is amazing, and quite humbling.”