Over the past week, photos of Warren Hellman toting a banjo were ubiquitous. The departed billionaire was a financial titan and a political force in this city -- but, yes, it was the banjo, perhaps the happiest of musical instruments, that seemed to define his public persona (and his private one, per family and friends).
Perhaps Hellman would be pleased that his name has made the Wikipedia "List of banjo players." He wasn't the world's best banjo player, or the most famous banjo player -- perhaps that'd be Eric Weissberg, who landed the gig playing on the Deliverance soundtrack.
But Hellman was one of the world's best-known incidental banjo-players -- that is, people who are otherwise well known who also play a mean banjo. And here are some others:
Steve Martin. Perhaps the king of the incidental banjo players, Martin's virtuoso banjo chops comprise one more skill set for a comedian/actor/writer/most famous man to wear white suits since Mark Twain.
Billy Connolly. The Scots comedian started out as a musician whose between-song banter was hilarious. He gradually morphed from a musician who told jokes into a comedian who played the banjo.
Jerry Van Dyke. Long known as Dick Van Dyke's (less funny) brother until his relatively recent success on Coach, Jerry Van Dyke was also differentiated from Dick via his skill at the four-string banjo. His banjo-playing ability got him the above gig on The Andy Griffith Show, for starters.
Ed Helms. While, sadly, the list of incidental banjo players grew one shorter this week, there is now an opportunity for Helms to move up a notch.
No philanthropic financial titans on that list other than the dearly departed. Well, there is time.
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