Banjo Match between Charles E. Dobson and Charles T. Plumer

Event Information

Cooper Institute

Event Type:
Chamber (includes Solo)

Record Information


Last Updated:
13 January 2019

Performance Date(s) and Time(s)

28 Dec 1868, 8:00 PM

Program Details

For $1000 and the Championship of the World. N. W. Gould, referee; F. Stopel and E. Burke, judges. Preceding the match will be a grand olio entertainment of 25 select artists. At the close of the exhibition Mr. H. C. Dobson will present a magnificent $100 banjo to the best amateur banjo player. Among names submitted for this prize are E. Barnes, Mr. Philbrook, Jerome May, John Bogan, Mr. Ripley, and others. Plumer failed to appear for the event.

Performers and/or Works Performed

aka Home sweet home
Composer(s): Bishop
Text Author: Payne


Advertisement: New York Herald, 11 December 1868.
Announcement: New York Clipper, 12 December 1868, 286, 4th col., top.
Announcement: New York Clipper, 19 December 1868, 294, 3d col., middle.

Articles of agreement for the match.

Advertisement: New York Clipper, 19 December 1868, 295.
Announcement: New York Herald, 21 December 1868, 6.
Advertisement: New York Herald, 28 December 1868, 5.

A trial of skill in banjo playing takes place tonight at the Cooper Institute.

Article: New-York Times, 28 December 1868, 4.

The banjo is America’s national instrument.

Review: New York Sun, 29 December 1868, 1.

“The announcement has appeared in the daily papers for a week past, with what might be called a considerable flourish of banjos, that on Monday evening, at Cooper Institute, the championship of the world, so far as that instrument was concerned, would be decided with $1000 to the winner. The case narrowed itself down on the programme to a contest between Charles Dobson and Charles Plumer, and in point of fact to Mr. Dobson’s playing against himself. About twelve hundred people assembled last evening to see fair play. It was a cheerful and intelligent audience, with a disposition to be lively in which it was pleased to indulge whenever occasion offered. It found one such occasion when Mr. Dobson appeared.  It put its forefingers into its mouth and ‘whistled shrill,’ after a manner that would have made the fiercest northeaster that ever blew seem a gentle zephyr. It was indeed like the shriek of an express train. Having thus gently suggested its feelings of joy at beholding its favorite Dobson, it removed its fingers from its mouth and composed itself to listen. Dobson certainly did play well; there was no doubt about that. He tortured the instrument till it did all that its limited soul was capable of, and seemed like a demoniac negro on a wild breakdown. A friend of ours defines the banjo to be ‘the instrument that the better it’s played the worse it sounds.’ We incline to believe in this view of the case, and have only the slightest possible respect for the barbaric thud which seems to be the character of the only sound it is capable of producing. However, Mr. Dobson thought he could play ‘Home, sweet Home’ on it, and did it, and the cheerful audiences showed its keen relish of this sweet melody by again applying its forefingers to its capacious mouth and repeating the locomotive shriek. Thereupon Mr. Dobson retired gracefully, followed by the Judges. These judges were three in number, Judge Gould, Judge Smith, and Judge Burke. Judge Gould was distinguished by having a pair of densely black gloves. Like ‘my son John’ in the nursery balled who ‘went to bend with his stockings on, one stocking off and one stocking on,’ so Judge Gould appeared in his gloves, ‘one glove off, the other glove on.’ The ‘off glove’ he flourished at the audience in the performance of his official duties. After a time these Judges reappeared, and Judge Gould proceeded to shake his of glove at the audience, and inform them that Mr. Plumer had not yet arrived. This the audience evidently thought very forgetful, not to say inconsiderate, on the part of Plumer, and yelled it disapprobation; but its singer was skillfully turned to joy by the announcement that there would be at once a contest for a banjo valued at $100 to be given by Mr. Dobson to the best player in a general match. The entries were Messrs. May and Thompson, who strummed gallantly upon their several instruments. May was declared the winner, and Judge Smith proceeded to make the presentation speech.  From the remarks he made we should say he must have been the author of ‘Smith’s Classical Dictionary.’ He commenced a detailed history of the instrument from the earliest times. When he came to Herculaneum and Pompeii, and said that those cities were famous for banjos, the audience became frantic with joy or some other emotion, and indulged at such length in their expressions of delight that when they got quiet again, Smith, who had talked on through it all, had progressed very considerably, and indeed had got to the history of the banjo as contained in the books of the Old Testament, and was discoursing on the period referred to as the date of 1st Chronicles. His references to sacred history were by no means thrown away on the audience, who had all evidently been to Sunday school. Finally he got down to the present era, and after a few apt allusions to modern negro minstrelsy gave Mr. May the banjo. It was now Judge Gould’s turn. He advanced upon the stage, toying playfully with his off glove. He said that Mr. Plummer had not yet come—indeed, Plumer seemed quite to have forgotten that he had any engagement. ‘Under these circumstances, it was his pleasing duty—indeed, under any circumstances it would have been his pleasing duty—to have in point of fact, that he should consider it to have been such a duty.’ Here the Judge, having become somewhat tangled in his speech, waived his glove helplessly at the audience in token of distress. The audience came nobly to the rescue with a variety of calls, cheers, and encouraging whistles, that seemed to put paw life in the speaker, who concluded his remarks by saying that Mr. Charles Dobson had won the thousand dollars, and was the champion of the world, nobody having appeared to contest his rights. The audience thereupon howled indignant, and indulged in the expression of their belief that it was ‘a fraud,’ and ‘a put0up job,’ and that they ‘didn’t see it;’ and departed; with many fine imitations of distant locomotives whistling at innumerable crossings, and of the calls of discontented cats.”

Review: New-York Daily Tribune, 29 December 1868, 8.

“A banjo match, between Charles E. Dobson and Charles T. Plumer, was advertised to take place in the large hall of the Cooper Institute last evening, for $1,000 and the championship of the world. The attendance was very large and included a few ladies. Aside from the banjo match, the programme embraced singing of ballads, clog and other fancy dancing, guitar solos, even.  When Mr. Dobson had finished his part of the performance the audience were informed that his opponent, Mr. Plumer, had not yet arrived. This caused considerable dissatisfaction. A match was then contested between Mr. Jerome May and Frederick Thompson for a patent banjo.  Mr. May won the prize. The gentleman who made the presentation came forward, kids in hand, and said he knew that the ladies and gentlemen before him had anticipated who was to have the banjo. He was glad that it had been proven by the performers that banjo music was not confined exclusively to the negro race, and that a gentleman could produce the sweetest of sounds from that instrument and be a gentleman still. He was sure that there was no necessity of his reminding the intelligent audience that long before they and he were born that noble instrument charmed many a fair maiden, and soothed the sorrows of the afflicted. [Loud applause.] He would, by their kind permission, take his hearers back to the days of Herculaneum and of Pompeii, when the inhabitants of those luxurious cities assembled under the shade of the portico or the branches of the fig-tree, while their sons and daughters danced to the music of the Banjo. If we turn to the pages of that sacred volume, the Bible which we know to be the best of all books [loud cries and laughter]—we find the stringed instrument alluded to in many places. The speaker conceded merit to the zither and other musical instruments spoken of in the Holy Scriptures; but in his opinion the Banjo was capable of producing music equal, if not superior, to the guitar or any of the other stringed instruments. Mr. May was loudly called upon to play a tune on his new banjo, but as one of the strings broke on attempting to tighten it, he was forced to retire. Mr. Dobson was highly eulogized as the champion player of the world, as was shown by his opponent not being present. The audience then retired, boisterously asserting that the whole performance was a ‘put up job.’”