A Brief History of SPAH

By Manfred Wewers

1962: In the fall of that year, Earl Collins Jr. (1924-1988) of Dearborn, Michigan, ran ads in his local newspapers, looking for harmonica players and from that beginning, the idea of SPAH (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica) was born.

December 27, 1962: The first SPAH meeting and concert was held in the Ford Central Office Building Auditorium, provided by the Ford Motor Company. About 150 people attended (Harmonica Happenings 22.3: 3). Earl Collins worked at Ford and after all, Henry Ford (1863-1947) was a harmonica player.

October 23, 1963: SPAH became SPAH Inc. Along with Earl Collins, the co-founders and co-signers of the incorporation documents were Gordon Mitchell (1927-2001) and Richard Harris (1938-2015).

September 1, 1965: CanSPAH, the Canadian branch of SPAH, was created. The certified document, a Declaration of Business, #55142, was signed by Maurice Godfrey (1913-1984), the founder and Administrator of CanSPAH and was registered in the County of York, Ontario.

November 13, 1965: CanSPAH’s first harmonica concert was held in a local high school in Toronto (HH 22.3: 5).

April 23, 1966: SPAH presented the show, “April Shower of Harmonica Artistry“, at the Dondero High School Auditorium in Royal Oak, Michigan. Both SPAH and CanSPAH members attended.

November 12, 1966: CanSPAH hosted “An Evening of Harmonica Stylings.”

September 1, 1967: SPAH presented the first issue of Harmonica Happenings, the SPAH newsletter. The annual subscription fee was $1.00. Gordon Mitchell was listed as SPAH President, a position he held for 22 years. Eugene Hansen served as Treasurer for more than 35 years since 1967.

November 4, 1967: CanSPAH presented “Echo 1967” at Birchmount Collegiate, Scarborough, Ontario.

January 20, 1968: SPAH held a dinner and dance at the Dearborn Elks Lodge.

September 28, 1968: SPAH hosted “September Serenade in Blue” in Detroit, Michigan.

October 4 & 5, 1974: SPAH celebrated its 11th Anniversary with its first two-day event in Westland, Michigan.

1975: CanSPAH events ended.

1976: SPAH issued a formal Code of Ethics.

September 8-10, 1977: SPAH held an event in Youngstown, Ohio, the first all SPAH event outside of Michigan.

September 4-6, 1980: Peter Madcat Ruth became the first diatonic harmonica player to perform at a SPAH event. Until then SPAH featured only chromatic players and trios.

August 12-15, 1981: Canadian Bernie Bray (1921-1981) was posthumously awarded the first SPAH Harmonica Player of the Year Award that was subsequently renamed the Bernie Bray Harmonica Player of the Year Award. The SPAH Convention also became the four-day event that it still is today. Paul Metris became SPAH’s Sergeant at Arms, a position he held for 32 years until 2013.

August 22, 1984: President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) wrote a letter to congratulate SPAH on its 21st Anniversary.

August 30-September 3, 1988: Along with Peter Madcat Ruth, SPAH featured several other diatonic players, such as Charlie Musselwhite and Lee Oscar, at its 25th Anniversary Convention. All types of harmonicas and genres of music are now part of the SPAH Convention experience.

Fall 1989: Harmonica Happenings Editor Richard Harris introduced the magazine to word processing and desktop publishing.

1995: During the spring, Robert Williams brought SPAH into the email world with HarpSPAH@aol.com.

1997: Danny Wilson gave SPAH an online home with spahstore.org.

2000: Douglas Tate (1934-2005) became the first non-American president of SPAH.

Fall 2006: The first full-color Harmonica Happenings was produced by Editor Roger Bale.

2012: Under the leadership of SPAH President Tom Stryker, the William Rosebush Youth Fund became an integral part of SPAH’s commitment to the future of the harmonica.

August 13-17, 2013: SPAH celebrated its 50th Anniversary Convention in St. Louis, Missouri.

2015: To celebrate Stan Harper (1921-2016), SPAH renamed its Special Merit Award, the Stan Harper Award of Special Merit.

2016: SPAH President Michael D’Eath takes SPAH to its first downtown convention location in San Antonio, Texas.

September 15, 2017: Another SPAH first. Breaking away from tradition, the International Blues Blowoff (IBB), a non-SPAH event previously held at some other location, was held at the SPAH Convention site in Tulsa. Since 2013, Christopher Richards has produced this event, previously a.k.a. the Blues Blowoff. “It’s truly a one-of-a-kind show, unique in all the world due mostly to the circumstance of so many great players gathered in town for SPAH from all corners of the globe.”