The following article was written by Muppet fan Chandler Jackson. Many, many thanks to Chandler for his hard work!
Out here in Oklahoma, we have fields, we have wheat, we have tornadoes, and now we have… Kermit the Frog?
Saturday, September 8th marked the grand unveiling of The American Banjo Museum’s “Jim Henson: Life and Legacy” exhibit in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Fans of both the instrument and the fabric-faced Frog gathered round a series of glass cases, peering down upon a small-yet-impressive collection of Henson artifacts.
A Kermit photo-puppet delighted crowds the most, offering fans a one-on-one interaction with Henson’s most famous creation. However, the most noteworthy piece of Muppet history inside the case may have been the tiny banjo sewn into Kermit’s fingertips mere hours before the grand unveiling began. When Kermit’s Muppet Movie banjo proved to be unavailable, last-minute strings were pulled, and the miniature, wooden instrument used by The Country Trio’s Jim Henson caricature figure was shipped over instead.
Behind Kermit rests a framed doodle from Jim’s sketchbook, depicting a bearded Muppet hillbilly strumming a banjo, a frog (resembling Sam and Friends’ Mushmellon) sitting within a stump, and a bird (resembling Nutty Bird from Jim’s RC-Cola ad campaign) peering out from within a tree-hollow.
A second case displays the never-before-seen “Muppet Banjo.” Utilized during the soundtrack recording of nearly every Muppet Show episode, banjo player Martin Kershaw obtained a series of autographs from an incredible amount of notable Muppet Show guest stars. “Back when The Muppet Show started, Martin Kershaw, who was a big, big star in the studio world of England as a musician, started working with the Muppet band,” says Johnny Baier, Executive Director of The American Banjo Museum. “When Julie Andrews came on the show and signed the head of his banjo, it started a tradition. From that point forward, all the stars on The Muppet Show signed the head of the banjo. You’ve got Elton John, Roy Rogers, Gene Kelly. It’s a who’s-who of entertainment on the head of one banjo.” (Jim Henson’s own signature can be spotted toward the bottom-right.)
Also featured within the exhibit are the hand-drawn blueprints for Kermit’s Muppet Movie banjo, in lieu of the actual object.
Heather Henson, in town to cut the ribbon and accept her father’s induction into The Banjo Hall of Fame, seemed incredibly enthusiastic about the event. “My father loved the banjo. He loved all genres of music, and he really tried to find music that would be good, appropriate connections for the characters. Music with a lot of personality that he could build up these worlds of puppets with. I think the banjo in particular has a particular kind of a character to it. A character you can match a puppet character with.”
Before snipping the ribbon, Heather stated, “To be honored by a real music organization that cares so much about this instrument, and such an American instrument too, is a great honor. It’s such a joy to be able to bring Kermit himself here to you guys, and to have a one-on-one, firsthand connection to the puppets that my dad poured his life into making. He brought these pieces of love through these shows, through the television, and he left it all for us. And to have the one-on-one connection of seeing these puppets, I think is really special.”
The grand unveiling was preceded by an award ceremony, during which Jim was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and proceeded by a special musical performance by puppeteer and banjo-picker, David Stephens.
When asked about her father’s induction into The Banjo Hall of Fame, Heather Henson replied, “I think my father promoted the banjo. That opening strum of The Rainbow Connection holds a place in a lot of people’s hearts. In my heart, in many people’s hearts. We’ve shown The Muppet Movie a lot, and that song, its iconic. It’s woven into American history.”
Executive Director Baier stated, “Jim Henson’s life work was such a beautiful piece of positive energy and entertainment. Were celebrating that here at The American Banjo Museum.”
As an extra bonus, here’s Heather Henson and David Stephens on Oklahoma City’s “Rise and Shine” to promote the exhibit!
Special thanks to Heather Henson, Johnny Baier, David Stephens, The American Banjo Museum, and, most of all, Lucas Ross, for making this article possible.
Click here to jam out to Rainbow Connection on the ToughPigs forum!
by Chandler Jackson