Robert Stuart "Stu" Jamieson, 86, banjo player, engineer, boat designer, and scholar, passed away on September 23 after a long fight with Parkinson's disease. Stu and his family had been living in Central Florida since his retirement in the late 1980s.
Jamieson was born in 1922 in Kansu, in the Tibetan-Chinese border country, to a missionary family, and led a colorful life worthy of a documentary film. His Tennessee-born maternal grandfather, William Wallace Simpson, played the banjo, and Stu recalled family members saying that his grandfather's banjo and singing had "charmed Han Chinese, Salar, Hui Moslems and Tibetans alike, and he soon established a thriving group of missions." (OTH, Summer 1990) While overseas, his grandfather had met and married a Swedish missionary lady. One of their children was Stu's mother, to whom William Simpson passed on the family songs and tunes. She sang and accompanied her family on a portable folding organ and autoharp. The Depression brought the family back to the States, where they moved from place to place as his father preached and raised funds for the mission. In the late 1930s, the family relocated to the mission's headquarters in New York City, where Stu's parents felt he and his brother could get a good high school education. There Stu, "by sheer luck," became involved with folk dance and music, performing with folklorist Margot Mayo's American Square Dance Group.
In 1946 and 1949, Jamieson, Margot Mayo, and several others piled into an old Oldsmobile coupe loaded with recording equipment and headed south, to record traditional dance music and square dance calls. Among the musicians they recorded were banjo player Rufus Crisp, of Allen, Kentucky, and the remarkable string band of Murph Gribble, John Lusk, and Albert York of Campaign, Tennessee. Jamieson's great-aunt Oneida Petit lived near Campaign, Tennessee, a small town on the L&N line, and arranged the recording session of Gribble, Lusk, and York at a store down by the train depot. Jamieson's account of this trip appeared in the OTH (vol. 2, no. 4, May-July 1990). Mayo also had Southern relatives, and her kin in Kentucky alerted her to banjo player Rufus Crisp. Stu traveled back on his own in the summers and learned much of his banjo technique from Crisp. In later years he wrote an article exhaustively detailing Crisp's style (OTH vol. 8, no. 8, Summer 2003). Older OTH readers may have first heard heard of Jamieson through his California band, Stu Jamieson's Boys, whose charming versions of "Shoot the Turkey Buzzard," "All Around the Mountain," and "Been All Around this World," appeared on a 1964 Elektra LP, String Band Project. Up until 2002 or so, he remained active, performing at house concerts and festivals, and at music camps he taught what he had learned of banjo playing to a new generation. He was one of a kind and will be sorely missed.