Celebrated banjo player Mark Johnson is the recipient of the third annual Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. Mark is a Florida-based player whose excellence is known nationwide. Johnson differs from the first two years' winners in that he focuses on a style of playing called clawhammer rather than Scruggs style or three-finger. He has blended the two styles of playing into one approach he calls "Clawgrass." During the day, he is the director of Levy County's emergency operations in Bronson, FL, and attends to his banjo playing on weekends and holidays.
The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass provides the winner with an unrestricted cash prize of fifty-thousand dollars, as well as a bronze sculpture created expressly for the prize by noted artist Eric Fischl. The award was created to bring recognition to an individual or group for outstanding accomplishment in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music, the prize highlights the extraordinary musicianship of these artists and brings recognition to bluegrass music worldwide. The winner is determined by a board consisting of J.D Crowe, Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka, Anne Stringfield, Alison Brown, Neil V. Rosenberg, Béla Fleck and Steve Martin.
The award is given to a person or group who has given the board a fresh appreciation of this music, either through artistry, composition, innovation or preservation, and is deserving of a wider audience. The recipient must be a professional or semi-professional and should currently be active in their careers.
The award is funded personally by the Steve Martin Charitable Foundation.