In loving memory of Manfred Wewers, former SPAH Archivist (2014-2018)
This site has been made possible through the generous contributions of many former and present SPAH members and harmonica friends. Gordon Mitchell, Eugene Hansen, Maurice Godfrey, Lloyd Hovey, Sue Collins, Harland Crain and Roger Trobridge must be mentioned.
Click on the links to see the photos. New images are added on an on-going basis.
Please feel free to contact me if you see errors or omissions or you wish to contribute images for posting.
Many of the harmonica players and groups mentioned in the pre-SPAH era, the long path to SPAH, will become life-long members and supporters.
James Amireaux Bazin (1798-1883), the son of a watchmaker, becomes an inventor of musical instruments. His 1830s American-made harmonica, or something similar to a harmonica, is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (photo 1). Bazin will sell one of his harmonicas to the music store of John Ashton of Boston before 1849.
In a letter dated December 29, 1848, store owner Michael Bentz of York, Pennsylvania sends his supplier, music store owner Charles L. Heizmann of Reading, Pennsylvania, an account of his sales and an inventory of musical instruments that includes two kinds of harmonicas, one with 20 notes, the other with 24. Bentz also complains about the quality and cost of the harmonicas (letter 1).
The harmonica that is presently, 2018, displayed in the Gettysburg, Penn. NPS Museum amongst the Civil War instruments is a Wilhem Thei tremolo 1880s model, not an authentic war period harmonica. The museum had almost no documentation on the instrument. Further research confirmed that collector Harland Crain sold them the harmonica for their display. It is listed in the 1883 G.W. Stratton Musical Instrument Catalogue, selling between $8.00 to $21.00 per dozen based on the number of reeds.
Brass harmonicas are dangerous to play (clip 1).
Canadian artist Ozias Leduc (1864-1955) paints the Boy with a Piece of Bread (1892-1899). Bread crumbs with a harmonica?
At a well-dressed gathering, the woman in black on the left, plays her harmonica (photo 1).
The youthful Spasm Band features a harmonica player.
An ancient ancestor of the harmonica, the sheng, an Asian instrument utilizing the concept of the free reed, has been played for many centuries. It appears in the United States in the mining town of Butte, Montana (clip 1).
It’s a big year for Hohner and the Marine Band harmonica that is destined for the American market. Also from Germany, the Seydel Co. sends its price list to American customers (letter 1). In the New York, a Clover harmonica comes with written instructions (ad 1).
In Australia during the 1900s, the Crackajack is selling well (ad 1).
Home entertainment in the parlor includes the harmonica (photo 1).
Christain Messner is another German manufacturing harmonicas (postcard 1).
It is the Hohner family, father, sons and grandsons, that will come to dominate harmonica manufacturing.
Just in time for Christmas, Koch brings out a display case (ad 1).
In Toronto, a street musician uses a neck rack to play harmonica and fiddle (photo 1, photo 2). A one-man-band provides the opportunity to earn a little money. There is even a simpler rack device (clip 1).
John Mullen does not start with a good harmonica day: it does however, improve (clip 1).
The Koch Co. stays busy with its customers in Germany (postcard 1).
Purchasing from a catalog makes it easy for everyone to own and play a harmonica (ad 1). Large groups of harmonica players, such as the the Boy Scouts of America, whose Publicity Director Charles Howard Mills promotes the use of the harmonica, need a lot of product (clip 1).
A harmonica contest, held in New York, produces two winners, described in the vernacular of those times, and has a Canadian judge (clip 1).
In Montreal, Quebec, artist Adrien Hebert creates The Mouth Organ Player in 1924, befitting the rural traditions of the province.
Toronto also holds a harmonica contest during the Broadview Boys Fair (clip 1). The event is linked with the harmonica competitions that take place annually at the Canadian National Exhibition, the CNE (1879-present). The CNE and the harmonica have had a close association since 1921 when the large, uniformed Canadian harmonica bands, just like those of the American Albert Hoxie (1884-1942) phenomena, first made their appearance there. In 1924, the harmonica became a legitimate instrument in the music competitions under the auspices of the Canadian Bureau for the Advancement of Music.
A man’s best friends. How does he push the slider? On May 9, Richard E. Byrd (1888-1957) flies over the North Pole. With him is Dick Konter, the harmonica player in the photo. Hohner takes the opportunity to document the event (ad 1). Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) reached the South Pole on Dec. 14, 1911. Although, there was no harmonica on that expedition, Hohner did produce the Roald Amundsen harmonica. Almost 100 hundred years later, not much has changed, the three still friends (photo 1). However, a dog is also a woman’s best friend (photo 1).
Two Hohner employees, William J. Haussler and D. Wakefield Coutlee release a record entitled, How to Play the Harmonica (RCA Victor: 20377).
Concertone harmonicas are reasonably priced and available in a mail-order catalog (ad 1).
Borrah Minevitich (1904-1955), without the Rascals, makes his harmonica debut (clip 1).
The Carl Fischer Co. publishes Borrah Minevitcht’s How to Play the Harmonica at Sight and Harmonica Hank Evans’ Harmonica Budget of Famous Melodies. For 25 cents you can also purchase the New Standard Harmonica Course by M.J. Synnberg.
These are certainly the days when the harmonica is extremely popular. The numbers are staggering.
In Toronto, enough people like the harmonica, to warrant a radio show featuring An Old-Time Harmonica Programme.
The Hans Rolz Co. operates in the German market (letter 1).
Take your harmonica playing to new heights as do these folks on the Murray Hill building in New York (photo 1).
The harmonica makes inroads into modern education. Dr. John H. Logan is the DMO, Doctor of Mouth Organ, in a program run by the Board of Education (clip 1). The Ditson Co. offers easy money for harmonica sellers (ad 1) and the Doerfel Co. offers a variety of harmonicas (ad 1).
The German Spranger Co. thanks its dealers by sending out postcards.
Matthias Hohner envisages that the harmonica will be played and enjoyed by everyone , in this instance using a rack (clip 1) .
Although Germany is preparing for war, it’s business as usual with the United States for harmonica manufacturers like Johann Schunck (letter 1).
In Germany, the harmonica producers are also still running a thriving business, as this bill from Herold-Essbach shows (letter 1).
Larry Adler and Paul Draper are the must act to see (clip 1, clip 2). Notice the request to support the war effort on the program (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4). The harmonica world changed in the 1940s. The Harmonicats, Jerry Murad (1918-1996), Al Fiore (1922-1996) and Don Les (1914-1994), set a standard for harmonica trios that will be copied for decades. They play locally (clip 1) and release recordings (clip 2 , clip 3).
Harmonica manufacturer Richard Koch (1873-1962), son of Andreas Koch (1844-1915), sends out New Years greetings to his customers (letter 1).
Harold “Zip” Morgan, Director of the Youth Optimist Clubs in Milwaukee, WI, releases the second edition of his Building Harmonica and Novelty Bands. He describes how to build an 11 foot harmonica to be played by eight boys (photo 1). Although shorter, SPAH’s “Big John” was already built in 1932 by Larry Stagg.
In Toronto of the late 1940s, youth harmonica groups are formed as well, such as this YMCA group including Brain Lytle, in the center, who is still an active player today (photo 1). See the Charlie McCoy look-a-like?
The harmonica is certainly an essential instrument in American military life. “Recreational Music Sets”, containing harmonicas, are provided to all military stations with 100-200 men (clip 1). Prior to declaring war on Germany on September 3, 1939, the British War Office saw fit to remove the harmonica from its revised 1938 Infantry Training Manual. Until then battalion commanders were required “to encourage the playing of mouth organs among troops on the march” to “forget their sore feet”.
Harmonicas are becoming hard to get, even for the military, as confirmed in this letter from the Gretsch Co. (letter 1). It does not seem to be a problem in Hollywood. Leo Diamond’s Harmonicaires play theirs in the movie Hi’ya Sailor (photo1 l-r:Abe Diamond, Richard Hayman , Leo Diamond & 2 extras).
Pvt. Stan (Wisser) Harper (1921-2016) performs for Yehudi Menuhin (clip 1). The chromatic player at Air Force Base Selfridge has a smaller audience. Also overseas performing for the troops are Vito Patierno, Alan Pogson and Pete Pedersen (photo 1).
Stan Wisser next performs for Larry Adler and Jack Benny (clip 1, clip 2). Larry, Jack and Ingrid Bergman are on tour in France and Germany and SPAH member Dick Thomas‘ brother-in-law is there to document the event (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4). Gordon Mitchell is another harmonica player in uniform (clip 1).
During the 1950s, Herb Shriner (1918-1970), a player, is very busy promoting the harmonica on television and in magazines (page 1, page 2). By the mid 1950s he starts a fan club with a newsletter (letter 1, letter 2). A 35 cent booklet provides an easy method for playing the harmonica.
In 1941, biologist, botanist and explorer, Richard Schultes (1915-2001), disappeared into the Columbian Amazon for twelve years. When he emerged he brought back botanical specimens as well as photographs including this one of Salvador Chindoy, a traditional healer, a shaman. In his hand, along with the tools of his mystical trade, he holds a harmonica (photo 1). By 1935, the Pohl Co. (part of Hohner) had already produced its Amazona model that was both inexpensive and ideal for trade or gift giving.
CFRB, a local Toronto radio station presents Hohner Harmonies, sponsored by Hough & Kohler (the Hohner distributor in Toronto), from September 12, 1953 to March 27, 1954, every Saturday at 6:00 p.m featuring Bernie Bray on the harmonica and Les Foster on the accordion. Bernie is obviously not endorsing the Thorens harmonicas anymore; indeed, Hohner is making a quick and successful, post-war, comeback. One of the Fred Mather’s children, Earl, shows up on the harmonica scene doing a minstrel show, not yet offensive by Canadian standards (clip 1).
In Toronto, Bernie Bray gives harmonica lessons. One of his students is Montrealer Bernie Fields who won a music scholarship at the CNE harmonica competitions (clip 1). Publications such as Fifty Famous Songs for the Harmonica are also available to players.
A harmonica can save your life, if you play the right tune (clip 1).
Hohner issues badges for its Harmonica Jamboree.
In Toronto, music teacher Maurice Godfrey wins a gold medal at the CNE harmonica competitions (clip 1) and his school band takes second place (clip 2). He prepares them well by providing music books (invoice).
In 1960, there are still vestiges of the Albert N. Hoxie’s (1884-1942) large harmonica band structures. Levittown, Pa., has such a band (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4, clip 5). Their leader, Michael Farber, was a member of the Philadelphia group. Here’s the original 1929 tour program (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4, clip 5, clip 6, clip 7, clip 8). There are also other harmonica groups, such as this youth group, in the Detroit area (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4, photo 5).
Hohner puts out The Art of Playing Hohner Chromatic Harmonicas.
Bob Dylan earns $68.00 for his harmonica playing session work on Harry Belafonte’s album The Midnight Special (RCA: LSP-2449).
Bernie Bray is back in the military in Winnipeg, Manitoba, performing in benefit shows. His name appears on the play list for two songs. It is here that Bernie works on the the balloon-bagpipe harmonica. Maurice Godfrey is busy publishing his Harmonica Music for Schools series (page 1, page 2, page 3).
Hohner is a major player in the North American harmonica market, reaching even Brandon, Manitoba, a sales stop for grandson Ernst Hohner.
The SPAH Years
Earl Collins Jr. (1924-1988), a harmonica player and Ford employee, in Dearborn, Michigan, has a vision (page 1, page 2, page 3) to form an organization for harmonica players. He finds more like-minded people at Ford; after all, Henry Ford (1863-1947) was a harmonica player, he presents harmonica seminars, and also runs ads in his local newspapers in the Motor City area, looking for others. On May 28, he holds an organizational meeting at the Ford Offices (flyer 1). This is the birth of the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH). On December 27, (page 1, page 2) the first SPAH meeting and concert is held in the Ford Central Office Building Auditorium, provided by the Ford Motor Company. About 150 people attend (Harmonica Happenings 22.3: 3). The Harmonicats perform for those who attended, including present-day SPAH member Eugene Hansen (l-r: Eugene Hansen & Bob McFarlane). Here’s the letter to Jerry Murad setting up the show (page 1, page 2, page 3). As help is needed to run this new organization, Earl realizes the need for a Board of Directors (letter 1).
This is the story of SPAH, starting with a meeting on Jan. 20, to discuss SPAH’s future incorporation (page 1, page 2). Earl communicates with the SPAH membership about upcoming activities (page 1, page 2). On October 23, SPAH becomes SPAH Inc. Along with Earl Collins, the co-founders and co-signers of the incorporation documents are Gordon Mitchell (1927-2001) and Richard Harris (1938-2015). Prior to the age of emails, mailing lists (page 1, page 2) and letters from the President of SPAH (page 1, page 2) to the membership are constant requirements in order to move the organization forward. SPAH develops a letterhead for convenience. As the membership grows, SPAH divides itself in Chapters, based on geographical boundaries, making it easier for members to attend meetings and prepares questionairs (page 1, page 2). Each Chapter has individuals responsible for local administration and events (page 1, page 2), including holding Chapter meetings, keeping minutes (page 1, page 2, page 3) and sponsoring shows. The Lincoln Park Chapter has its own logo and hosts a SPAHtacular on Dec 10. The 1st prize for the draw, 15 lbs. of silver dollars, would be worth about $3,500.00 today. On Nov. 1, SPAH’s Board of Directors presents a concert featuring the Harmoni-Kings (l-r: Hank Graham, Gene Broglie & Bob Bauer). Here they are at rehearsal.
It’s also the story of “Big John”. Built in 1932 by Larry Stagg (l-r:Larry Stagg & Vince Melosky) and Bill Forsyth for the Detroit Junior Optimist Club, it is brought to SPAH in 1963 and makes the local Detroit news (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3). Then “Big John” goes nationwide, flying to New York (l-r:Earl Collins, Larry Stagg, Gordon Mitchell, Dennis Paperd, Ginny & Vince Melosky) and appearing on Apr. 8, 1963, on Gary Moore’s I’ve Got a Secret and at the Hohner Company (l-r:Earl Collins, Dennis Paperd, Ginny Melosky, Gordon Mitchell, Larry Stagg & Vince Melosky). By 1967, “Big John” travels to Toronto for a CanSPAH gathering where it is played by a SPAH group (l-r.: Vince Melosky, Richard Harris, Chuck Moll, Ginny Melosky, Gordon Mitchell & Al Fogel). Vince Melosky (l-r:Vince Melosky & Earl Collins) acquires”Big John” in 1975 and displays it at the Lincoln Park Historical Museum in 1978. Where is it now? Hopefully, another harmonica-loving home like this one was.
SPAH in these early years is all about getting together, showing harmonicas and playing in groups as this series of photos demonstrates (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4, photo 5, photo 6, photo 7, photo 8, photo 9, photo 10). Here are some SPAH members at another location (photo 1). Joe Cutrtale and Gene Jones get some playing time (photo 10).
Earl Collins gets more newspaper coverage.There is an active process to get players together to play and raise funds, such as this spaghetti social (letter 1, ticket, letter 2). As well, Earl communicates with the membership about future plans (page 1, page 2).
The Sgro Brothers, Dominic and Tony, move to Elmira, NY, and play the big harmonica (clip 1).
On Mar. 21, SPAH presents a concert of SPAH talent. The program (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) includes Vince Melosky, Eugene Hansen and Fred Stowers. And SPAH continues to grow as the Chapters are formalized (Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 6). Earl Collins is presented a plaque for his service as founder and president of SPAH.
Cham-Ber Huang (1925-2014) , always resourceful, introduces the Chordomonica I and II, as well as instruction and music books, Folk Song Fest, to help players learn the intrument (book 1, book 2). Hohner further publishes Folk Songs for the Harmonica.
Further growth comes from north of the US border. CanSPAH, the Canadian branch of SPAH, is created on Sept.1. The certified document, a Declaration of Business, #55142, is signed by Maurice Godfrey (1913-1984), the founder and Administrator of CanSPAH and is registered in the County of York, Ontario. CanSPAH also creates a letterhead and Service Award form. Fred Mather (1910-1999) becomes the Honorary President of CanSPAH while Bob Ferguson (1933-2017) takes on the President role. Soon thereafter, on Nov. 13, CanSPAH holds its first harmonica concert in a Toronto high school. The St. Kevin School Harmonica Band, led by Bob Ferguson, performs as does SPAH’s Harmonicasuals (l-r:Gordon Mitchell, Richard Harris & Earl Collins).
Prior to the birth of CanSPAH, by 1958, Fred Mather, who becomes a long-term SPAH member, has already gotten involved with the Canadian Guild of Harmonicists, a group of Toronto harmonica players who wish to pattern themselves after the National Harmonica League in London, England (letter 1).
Both SPAH and CanSPAH members attend the April 23, SPAH show, April Shower of Harmonica Artistry (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4), at the Dondero High School Auditorium in Royal Oak, Michigan. SPAH asks Hohner for a little assistance (letter 1). The SPAH Board of Directors and the Chapter members are busy setting up shows or working on ways to advance the harmonica. The Northside Chapter meets on Apr. 26 (page 1, page 2) and Jul. 26 (page 1) keeping minutes of the meetings. The Lincoln Chapter uses 50-50 Rafflesto raise funds (ticket). To help new members with their harmonica and music skills, lesson packages are developed to be handed out. SPAH members provide some entertainment at a Ford Co. management social function (poster) and plan a Fall Talent Show (letter 1, letter 2).
The process to retain and recruit new members requires a lot of paperwork. Member envelops are typed, letters are typed and copied and then the envelops are hand stuffed by volunteers with reply cards and return envelops. The Chapters are also busy with various projects (letter 1).
Tony Glover, who reveals the mysteries of second position to a lot of harp players in his Blues Harp that also contains a little record. Hearing is believing. He will attend a future SPAH convention.
CanSPAH hosts An Evening of Harmonica Stylings (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) on Nov. 12, in Toronto, that is well attended by SPAH members. I get a copy of Tony Glover’s book in Toronto and try to apply his technique during my time as a harmonica player and vocalist in a band (clip 1).
On Sept. 1, SPAH presents the first issue of Harmonica Happenings, the SPAH newsletter and a SPAH logo. The annual subscription fee is $1.00. Gordon Mitchell is listed as SPAH President, a position he holds for 22 years, and Eugene Hansen, as Treasurer, a position he serves in for 25 years starting in 1967. SPAH features the Harmonicats at a special concert (letter 1).
Due to scheduling conflicts, CanSPAH’s May 12 concert features only Canadian players. They again perform on May 25 at Harmonica Harmonies (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) at St. Lawrence School where Bob Ferguson is the Principal. Consequently, SPAH’s Sunday Seminar (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) show, on May 28, has no Canadian content. However, CanSPAH and SPAH come together again on Nov. 4, at Birchmount Collegiate, Scarborough, where CanSPAH presents Echo 1967 (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4). It is at first wrongly advertised for Nov. 13, but a correction appears in local Toronto papers. SPAH members, the Meloskies, Ginny and Vince perform as a duo as well as the Canadian trio, the Brass Reeds (l-r:Hank Kloek, Laurie Beischer & Tony Boerekamps). Here’s an earlier progam schedule. CanSPAH members are very busy, performing at another show, Now and Then (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4), on Nov. 17 and 18, and next attending a CanSPAH Annual Meeting on Nov. 19.
Maurice Godfrey makes the news by having taught 10,000 people to play harmonica over the years (clip 1)
(l-r:Bill Wesley, Eugene Hansen, Richard Harris, Larry VanDorn, & J. McMinn), Canada’s Harmonicaires (l-r:Doug Pell, Bob Schrader & Bill Wright) and many more, and to participate in a SPAH/CanSPAH jam (photo 1, photo 2). SPAH changes its logo. A player at the local Detroit clubs is Johnny O’Brien along with the Stereomonics (flyer 1). Sometimes harmonica gigs don’t work out, as this letter to Earl Collins indicates. Harmonica players on the road, in this case with the Harmonica Rascals, keep in touch with Earl (page 1, page 2)Vestiges of Albert Hoxie’s Philadelphia Harmonica Band still exist. The Philharmonicas are all previous members (clip 1).
Led Zeppelln performs at the Rockpile, Toronto’s equivalent of New York’s Filmore East, in August. Lead singer Robert Plant brings along his harmonica. My friend Buzz Shearman, now in a band called Sherman and Peabody, is one of the opening acts and also plays his harp. Another opening band, Mary-Lou Horner features a harmonica player (still looking for his name) as well. Their guitarist Ben Mink will work with k. d. lang in the future (page 1, page 2, page 3). Unfortunately, in between Toronto appearances, Led Zeppelin becomes very famous and their demand for more money shuts down the Rockpile.
SPAH member Karl Listerman is featured in a newspaper article, as is member, John Grist, who also makes the news (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4). Other members play without media coverage. In Marine City still another club is formed (clip 1, clip 2).
American Airlines, like Ford, has an employee magazine that is willing to promote the harmonica. Capt. Thomas Troestler takes his harmonica along (clip 1). Weldon Bryant, a Larry Adler fan, just likes to perform.
Focusing on the harmonica, Michael Licht writes “America’s Harp” for Folklife Center News (page 1, page 2, pgea 3, page 4) and Dereck Williamson contributes “Beware the Harmonica” in Pickin’ (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3).
Maurice Godfrey performs at the SPAH Convention (photo 1 l-r:Maurice & Hank Kloek). His brother Marcel is also a player.
Johnny Cash (1932-2003) becomes a Hohner endorsee (ad1).
R. William Hough, President of Hough and Kohler, a Hohner distributor in Toronto, congratulates SPAH for the issuing Harmonica Happenings by making a financial donation.
Although not a player, Marlon Brando entertains with his chromatic in the movie Last Tango in Paris (clip 1).
Hohner publishes John Pugliese’s, better known as John Sebastian Sr.’s (1915-1980) Chromatic Harmonica Instruction Course; Cham-Ber Huang writes Jazz and Pop Styles for Chromatic Harmonica; and Tommy Morgan adds Chromatic Harmonica to the list of publications. Hohner’s Marine Band harmonica is featured on the cover of the self-titled album by Tiny Alice (Kama Sutra:KSBS-2046).
On Jun. 9, CanSPAH hosts a large SPAH group in Galt, Ont. Mo Vint is very active organizing this event (letter 1). This is followed by a celebration of SPAH’s 10th Anniversary (l-r:Dick White, Fred Stowers, Danny Wilson, Dan Eberle, Al Fogel, Celeste Mitchell, Bob Bauer & Gordon Mitchell) on Oct. 20. The banquet is followed by playing until the early hours (photo 1, photo 2).
Don Les splits (1971?) from the Harmonicats and forms the New Don Les Harmonicats with Mildred Mulcay () and Bob Herndon ().
For those seeking shortcuts, there is the E-Z Harmonica Method and Song Folio or the E-Z Method for Harmonica, for self-instruction. Harmonica Bill can teach you in 10 minutes in his Harmonica Playing and the Radio Song Book Album Harmonica Course also provides self-instruction.
SPAH tells its story (page 1, page 2 & page 3) and continues to seek more members through different ads like “What is SPAH” (page 1 & page 2) and a more humorous approach. Emil Vogirty joins (clip 1 & clip 2). Then SPAH celebrates its 11th Anniversary, led by a new board (clip 1).
Another Playing Harmonica Made Easy product hits the market.
On June 15-16, CanSPAH holds its last event in Galt, Ontario. The Reeds, who had hosted the previous year’s event, have disbanded and do not attend. Fred Mather helps fill the void along with Mo Vint. Both William Hough Jr. of Hough & Kohler and Gordon Wilson of Hohner Canada are present at that event to discuss the take over by Hohner and the subsequent reorganization. Gordon Wilson (1929-2012) becomes the President and General Manager of Hohner Canada. When in turn Hohner Canada closes on November 30, 1986, Jeffrey Wilson, Gordon’s son, opens Wilson Music Services in the Toronto area and picks up the sales and service of Hohner products.
On Aug. 14, the State of Michigan passes Senate Resolution 233 to commemorate SPAH’s 12th Anniversary (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4). SPAH members are busy promoting their beloved instruments (clip 1, clip 2, cllip 3, clip 4, clip 5). They do so well (clip 1, clip 2) that the City of Troy declares Oct. 14 as Troy Harmonica Day (clip 1). The City of Lincoln Park follows declaring Oct. 17 and 18 as Harmonica Days. Not to be outdone, the State of Michigan declares Oct. 18 to 24 as Harmonica Week (clip1). The harmonica is definitely gaining popularity again (clip 1, clip 2). Charlie McCoy becomes a SPAH member. There is a drive to recruit younger players in SPAH’s artwork (cartoon 1, cartoon 2)..
SPAH members are also busy. The Harmonica Men, a trio consisting of members Richard Harris, Eugene Hansen and Larry VanDooren, enter the 1975 World Harmonica Competition in Trossingen, Germany, via a tape recording, and achieve 6th place. Other SPAH members, Dan Eberle, Gordon Mitchel and Fred Stowers (photo 1), attend a local Sonny Terry (1911-1986) (photo1, photo 2) and Brownie McGhee (1915-1996) concert (photo1, photo 2) and present Sonny with an Honorary SPAH membership. In 1975, no other soley diatonic harmonica players are members of SPAH. The presentation is well documented (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3). Some SPAH members appear on the show, It’s Your Turn (photo 1, photo 2)
As well, in the Detroit area, since 1929, Willis Wilson runs a Boys Harmonica Club that performs locally (clip 1). In 1971 Willis celebrated 30 years as founder of the club. The harmonica still catches the public’s attention and there is certainly a curiosity about it (clip 1) making it more popular (clip 1, clip 2). Noel Coppage writes about it in his article, “Why Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals Were Pixilated”, for Passages (page 1, page 2).
Built by SPAH’s Al Fogel (1925-1988) and measuring in at 9 ft. 4 in., “Freddy” blows away “Big John” at 8 ft. 1/4 in. Al provides further details in Harmonica Happenings (page 1, page 2). The harmonica attracts attention to both the Lincoln Chapter (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3) and SPAH (clip 1, clip 2). “Freddy” also catches the eye of the camera. But, playing a more serious role, “Freddy” attracts young people to the joys of playing the harmonica (photo1, photo 2). After an appearance at the 1976 Michigan Harmonica Week, “Freddy” shows up in Oct. for a final showdown with “Big John” and then seems to have disappeared. It isn’t just Americans who build big harmonicas. The Germans also enter the fray with a large instrument. It appears that harmonica players can never get enough of the big “tin sandwich” (photo 1, photo 2).
Hohner releases Cham-Ber Huang’s creation, the CBH Professional 2016 (photo 1, ad1). George Neilson writes “A Little Cham-Ber Music” to announce the release (page 1, page 2, page 3). The Dupont Magazine adds a bit more technical data in its “Engineering Design with Dupont Plastics” article (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4).
Thirteen years later, the Convention (ticket, schedule) is held in Southfield, Mich. The a strong SPAH connection with the Ford Co. continues. On the front cover of its employee magazine, there are the Harmonica Men, a trio of very active and involved SPAH members. To encourage harmonica players to advance beyond playing by ear, formal music classes are held by musicians such as Danny Wilson. SPAH, as is still the case today, actively encouraging women (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4) and youths (clip 1, clip 2) to become members. A Code of Ethics is developed that includes a mandate for the more advanced players to assist those newer members wishing to learn. Famous harmonica players, like Larry Adler, when performing locally, help to promote the harmonica and encourage new players (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4). Blackie Schackner does the same (clip 1).
The non-professional players, regular SPAH members, also have a large impact when it comes to promoting SPAH and the harmonica. Stan Kerley receives newspaper coverage (clip 1, clip 2) as well as Rudy and Doris Michelin (clip 1) and Gus and Mary DeQuatro (clip 1). On Aug. 22, Dan Eberle is one of the many SPAH members who performs at Tiger Stadium to celebrate the Tiger’s 75th Anniversary (clip1, photo 1). SPAH member Mildred Vandenburgh returns from India where she taught 200 high school orphans how to play harmonica.
Alex Fogel thanks Mechanix Illustrated for helping to promote SPAH while other members hold a Harmonica Marathon at a local mall to promote the harmonica (clip 1). Afterwards, SPAH prepares for Harmonica Week on Oct. 21-3 (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3). It is celebrated by the Detroit Public Schools and the youth of Detroit (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3); by the City of Troy; by Southfield (clip 1); and the State of Michigan, whose Governor recceives a SPAH Certificate and issues an Executive Declaration. The 13th SPAH Convention is a complete success (clip 1, clip 2). In order to assist other SPAH chapters/clubs to promote a Harmonica Day or a Harmonica Week in their local areas, the Board of Directors developes a comprehensive guideline (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6, page 7, page 8, page 9, page 10, page 11). As well, the process to get more members continues with a newspaper article on SPAH member Dan Eberle (clip 1, clip 2) and a question about the next convention (clip 1).
It is again another big harmonica year. Vito Patierno, president of the Steel Valley Harmonica Club, creates the World’s Largest Harmonica at 11 ft. and 9 in. and weighing in at 31 pounds (clip 1). And, becoming a local harmonica sensation, is the Clark Family Players, a group of five family members (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3) that the news media cannot resist (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4). Another local group, the Harmonic-Aires, from Pennsylvania, perform at a spring event (clip 1).
The Organist Magazine features a harmonica article (page 12). Others, like Charlie Hutler (clip 1) and Howie Leyland (clip 1, clip 2) prefer playing the harmonica. So do Charlie Witt, Dick Moylan and more from the Cardinal State Harmonica Club (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4, clip 5). Alan “Blackie” Schackner (1917-2013) explains the harmonica to the readers of the New York Times and produces a number of instruction books for harmonica players during the 1970s and 1980s (book 1, book 2, book 3, book 4). Jerry Caldwell begins publication of Harp News, a short-lived harmonica newsletter.
In Toronto, SPAH member Robert Callaghan (l-r: Manfred Wewers, Robert, Doug Pell & David Fairweather), whose cartoons are featured in Harmonica Happenings, encourages one of his five daughters, Joyce Morris, to take up the harmonica.
The gathering for the 14th Convention (program) in Youngstown, Ohio, is a well attended event (clip 1, clip 2) and gets a lot of media attention (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4, clip 5, clip 6, clip 7, clip 8). The Mayor of Bay City proclaims Oct. 15-22, Harmonica Week and the Governor of Michigan follows with Oct. 16-24 for the State.
The Sgro Brothers and violinist Dave Rubinoff perform at a private party (clip 1). It’s by invitation only for harmonica players (clip 2). Rubinoff sends out Christmas cards that contain a harmonica. Check out the hobo at the lower left (page 1, page 2). George Miklas, still a very active SPAH member, makes his first of many appearances at a SPAH Convention (photo 1 l-r: Doug Ely, George Miklas).
Bob (Frank) Neubauer, harmonica player and collector (-1998), who performed with Borrah Minevitch and others, makes the paper (clip 1, clip 2). Walter Gomez of Argentina contacts him about an older harmonica (letter 1). Jack Kavoukian joins Hohner as Director of Advertising and forms an active relationship with SPAH.
Written by Barbara Wersba, Tunes for a Small Harmonica, is a story of young woman who falls in love with her teacher and plays a harmonica given to her by a friend.
SPAH members gather in Columbus, Ohio, for the 15th Convention (program). Norm Dobson, SPAH member and leader of the Harmonichords, a trio that competed at Trossingen, gets some press time (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3). So does the harmonica in Ken Hall’s article “How to Play ‘Hard Core’ Harmonica” in Mother Earth News (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6). Both help to promote interest in the 15th SPAH Convention on Sept. 9. October is even busier for SPAH. The City of Grand Rapids proclaims Oct, 15-21 to be the 4th Annual Michigan Harmonica Week and Oct. 21 to be Harmonica Day, followed by the City of Warren proclaiming the week as well, and the City of Troy proclaiming Oct. 17 as Troy Harmonica Day. To top it off, the Governor of the State of Michigan declares Oct.15-21 as Harmonica Week.
Here’s a puzzle. It appears that SPAH approached Hohner to produce a Little Lady with SPAH labels. Jack Kavoukian responded for Hohner with a proposed design. Does any SPAH member actually have one of these Little Ladies?
SPAH prepares for its 16th Convention in Roseville (program) with some media attention (clip 1, clip 2). Fred Merrill, the Convention Director does his part (clip 1, clip 2). But so do other SPAH members who find any excuse to play (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4). David E. Bonior, Member of Congress, helps out by welcoming SPAH to Detroit. The Convention is a success by all accounts (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4), thanks to the work of SPAH’s Board of Directors. Two more cities, St. Clair Shores and Roseville, officially proclaim their support for the harmonica.
Not so much fun is the task of preparing an annual statement (page 1, page 2, page 3). Today’s Treasurer of SPAH would love to revert to these less onerous reporting and tax obligations. More fun is the Garden State Harmonica Club show on Oct. 13 (photo 1, photo 2). The Steel Valley Harmonica Club hosts a three day gathering for some well known players (clip 1).
The Gretsch Co. is still in the harmonica business (ad 1). The Hohner Co. reports that Americans buy between 1,800 to 3,000 dozen harmonicas each week (Music Trade, Sept/Oct:1979). Sponsored by Hohner, Cham-Ber Huang presents seminars across the USA (brochure).
Gloria Spann, sister of President Carter, would have had a better day attending one of the above harmonica events instead of going to a restaurant. Hohner publishes How to Play the Harmonica with easy reading tips. Hohner also provides special harmonica prices for SPAH members (list 1).
John Bryan, some of whose photographs appear in this Archive, comes from Southampton, Eng., to attend the SPAH Convention. Actor Woody Allen pretends to play the harmonica in the movie Manhattan.
Clubs, such as the Buckeye State Harmonica Club and the newly formed Hoosier State Harmonica Club (clip 1, clip 2) are preparing for the 17th SPAH Convention in Southfield, Michigan (program) that will change SPAH history when Peter “Madcat” Ruth brings the diatonic to the performer’s stage. This is the SPAH Board of Directors (l-r:Rudy Michlin, Bert Reeves, Danny Wilson, Gordon Mitchell, Alex Fogel, Ted Miller & Van Rossen) that makes it happen. The Convention (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3) gets its fair share of media coverage (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3). And, there is still time to do a Christmas show at a senior’s home (clip 1). SPAH revises its logo and creates a badge and decals (image 1, image 2).
Jack Kavoukian of Hohner presents President Jimmy Carter and Miss Lillian with Hohner harmonicas while the Boy Scouts give them the Official Boy Scout harmonicas. The Hohner Co. publishes a booklet, Official Requirements for Earning a Scouting Music Merit Badge, to assist them.
Pete Pedersen lives in Toronto to work during the early 1980s. Local harmonica players listen to him play at various venues and also get the benefit of his harmonica knowledge such as this chord chart he prepared for a friend (page 1). Larry Adler also visits, performing with the Hamilton Philharmonic (page 1, page 2, page 3).
Michael Licht publishes “Harmonica Magic: Virtuoso Display in American Folk Music” in Ethnomusicology, giving the harmonica a scholarly boost. And for the serious player, Richard Hunter puts out his Jazz Harp publication. Long-term SPAH members and supporters Al and Judy Smith begin publishing instruction manuals for the chord harmonica (book 1, book 2, book 3, book 4) and for the bass harmonica (book 1), and song books (book 1, book 2).
The 18th SPAH Convention is held in Romulus (program, music program). Although SPAH did not get into the Guiness Book of World Records, SPAH member Howard Leland does for playing for 5 hours and 3 minutes without stopping. On a more serious side, harmonica player Eddy Manson, takes the critics to task when it comes to the chromatic harmonica (clip 1). Thinking even bigger, SPAH and Hohner explore the possibility (letter 1) of presenting President Reagan with an Honorary SPAH Membership. Unfortunately, the White House sends its regrets (letter 1, letter 2). However, the Michigan State Governor declares Aug. 10-16 to be Michigan Harmonica Week. And, SPAH and Hohner next set their sights on Congressman Claude Pepper, a harmonica player. He is pleased to accept (letter 1) a SPAH Honorary Membership and a special Hohner harmonica (photo 1 l-r: Jack Kavoukian, Claude Pepper & Gordon Mitchell)) that he plays (photo 2 l-r: Gordon Mitchell & Claude Pepper)). Hohner issues a press release for the occasion. The SPAH Board of Directors is busy holding meetings and issuing a formal Constitution and By-Laws. Under the leadership of Gordon Mitchell, the Board considers a physical location, an office for SPAH and a Building Fund. It does not go beyond this stage.
Norm Dobson’s Harmonichords sponsor A Gala Weekend & Testimonial to the Harmonicats (page 1, page 2, page 3). Here’s a photo of some of the lucky attendees and thanks to Roger Trobridge here is the recording.
Boy Scouts, 1,700 of them, gather to form the largest harmonica band.
Meanwhile, in Canada, the Halton Hills Harmonica Club, affiliated with SPAH, gets some media attention (clip 1).
Michigan Governor William Millikin issues another Executive Declaration observing Michigan Harmonica Week, Aug. 29-Sept. 4, as SPAH celebrates its 19th Convention (program). The 19th SPAH Convention (program, music program), again held in Romulus, gets some press time (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4). George Miklas continues to attend SPAH conventions (clip 1). Canadian SPAH member Mo Vint hangs out with the SPAH board members (photo 1). Tommy Morgan writes to tell SPAH how much he enjoys the Harmonica Happenings magazine (letter 1). SPAH receives the Cystic Fibrosis Service Award for its donations.
The Garden State Harmonica Club hosts a 12th Anniversary Festival on Oct. 16. Some harmonica players, like Gary Fanelli, choose other venues to show their harmonica skills. The Kansas City Harmonicateers publish their own newsletter, The Chord (page 1, page 2, page 3).
Taking a light-hearted look at the harmonica, Fred Nadis writes “The Harmonica in America” for the Atlantic.(clip 1, clip 2). Harmonica player Michael Rozek publishes “Harmonic Variations”, a more personal view, in American Way (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4). The harmonica appears in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. For the players of the 1980s, Jon Gindick produces Rock n’ Blues Harmonica and The Natural Blues and Country Western Harmonica. Hohner celebrates its 125th Anniversary. There are however times when you should not play a harmonica (clip 1).
Richard Harris produces a video, SPAH-The First 20 Years. Roger Trobridge, of the National Harmonica League, has managed to obtain an audio cassette recording of this video and has posted it in his archives (link).
The Kansas City Harmonicateers Harmonica Club presents a show and seminar (clip 1) that includes Phil Duncan, the author of numerous instruction books including You Can Teach Yourself Blues Harp and a strong SPAH supporter and volunteer. Both Congressman Claude Pepper and President Reagan are invited to attend SPAH’s 20th convention. Neither is able to attend. Michigan Governor James Blanchard declares Sept. 5-10 to be Michigan Harmonica Week. Advocating for the harmonica and SPAH, Lou Delin gets some media coverage (clip 1, clip 2).
CanSPAH and SPAH member, Fred Mather attends the 1983 Convention (photo1).
The 21st Convention is held in Romulus (program, music program). This year, after President Reagan is again invited to the SPAH convention, he sends a personal reply with his greetings to SPAH. Governor Blanchard once more declares Aug. 27-Sept. 2, as Michigan Harmonica Week, a special one for SPAH as Stan Harper attends and performs at his first SPAH convention (photo 1), after which he plays Carnegie Hall (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3).
However, it is the harmonica-playing politicians, like Jim Wright, David Obey, Bob Smith, James David Ford, Claude Pepper and James Scheuer (photo 1), who make the Washington and harmonica headlines (clip 1, clip 2).
The Long Island Harmonica Club does its part to spread some Christmas cheer (photo).
Harmonica players have been using racks since the early 1900s; but this application adds new meaning to “being bent out of shape” (photo 1). Only simpler is the rackless rack demonstrated by TJ Klay. Jim Wilfahrt also has a unique method of playing harmonica whilst otherwise engaged (photo).
Not only do real people play the harmonica, we also transfer this skill to imaginary cartoon characters, including various animals, such as a parrot seen in this Harmonica Happenings illustration. But, the line between reality and imagination becomes somewhat blurred. Here is Barnie, my 40 year old African Grey parrot, enjoying her Lee Oskar harmonica (photo 1).
Romulus is home for the 22nd SPAH Convention (program). The SPAH Board of Directors continues to invite the Reagans, who are unable to attend the convention. Michigan celebrates Aug. 26 -Sept. 5, as Harmonica Week. Canadians Ingo and Olav Andersen attend the convention (clip 1), described as “harmonica heaven” (clip 1).
Hohner puts out a new harp (ad 1). Notice all the SPAH member names on the endorsee list. Huang and Lee Oskar also advertise their products (ad 1, ad 2). Andy Paskas invents and creates the Harmonicana.
Frank (Bob) Neubauer) displays his harmonica collection again (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4, clip 5). Someone creates a list of all the players in Borrah Minevitch’s Rasals and Johnny Puleo’s Gang (page 1). John Bryan, who has a passion for the Rascals, has created a more extensive list of the group members (page 1, page 2). Paul Baron providew tips on playing the the harmonica (clip).
SPAH invites President Reagan and Michigan Governor Blanchard, who declares Aug. 25-31 as Michigan Harmonica Week, to attend the 23rd convention. They are unable to accept. The SPAH Board of Directors appoints Nick Vorona as 2nd Vice President and Regional Director of the Western States.
Hohner Inc., Va., begins publishing Easy Reading to stay in touch with its customers. Canadian newspaperman and harmonica player Charles Lynch (1919-1994), born in the U.S., is featured in Saturday Night (clip 1, clip 2).
Aug. 24-30 is declared Michigan Harmonica Week. Richard Harris, the then audio and visual guy proposes a multi-projection video to documnet SPAH’s Quarter of a Century and to interview Earl Collins (letter 1).
Canadian SPAH members Ted Baker and Joe Misener check the SPAH store for bargains (photo 1-(l-r:Ted & Joe)).
SPAH holds its 25th Anniversary Convention (program) and invites Earl Collins (page 1, page 2), who sadly dies before the event. As well as Hohner’s Jack Kavoukiani s invited. The Reagans are again unable to attend the convention that takes place during Michigan Harmonica Week on Aug. 29-Sept. 3. Many others do attend (clip 1) and receive a commemorative badge. Various souvenirs are given out at the conventions such as this name badge to Sue Collins, Earl’s daughter, and this letter opener and keyholder. During the convention, Gordon Mitchell, on behalf of SPAH, accepts the Zak Award, presented by SPAH-West (clip 1, clip 2). Gordon also receives the Zak (photo 1, photo 2). Pete Pedersen, Dave Doucette, Cy Seagal, Chamber Huang, Mo Vint and others, celebrate at the Convention (photo 1).
You never know who will be playing a harmonica (photo 1).
The State of Michigan declares Aug. 28-Sept. 2 as Harmonica Week.
SPAH member Nick Vorona, who is also a harmonica collector, gets some media coverage (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4, clip 5, clip 6). Some of the local players are getting ready (clip 1, clip 2) for Michigan’s Harmonica Week on Aug.27-Sept 1. As usual, the newspapers provide ample coverage of the event (clip1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4, clip 5, clip 6). The Gateway Harmonica Club holds its Festival on Oct. 12-13.
Harmonica Christmas cards are a good way to promote yourself. It also helps if you are an employee of company like Ford that publishes a newsletter containing articles about the achievements of its employees. The Ford/harmonica connection is still here almost 30 years later.
Jim Prushankin, who loves to give away harmonicas, is featured in People (page 1). James Cotton (1935-2017) also gets some news coverage (clip 1, clip 2). “Harmonica Convergence”, an article by Bernie Ward, shows up in SKY (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6) and David Harp, who is mentioned in the article, publishes Bending the Blues.
The Tampa Bay Harmonica Club presents a Dixie Harmonica Festival on Apr. 4-6.
Alan Stevenson finds either a harmonica in concrete or a work of art (photo 1).
The Windy City Harmonica Club gets the headlines (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4, clip 5). Joseph Leone wants to become a SPAH member (page 1, page 2) and Pete Pedersen performs at IHO’s Harmonica Happening in Sept. 25-27.
SPAH produces another badge for its 30th Convention.
Although he starts off playing blues, Robert Bonfiglio soon switches to classical music (clip 1, clip 2), studying under the guidance of Cham-ber Huang who leads seminars as well, such as this one in the Andirondacks (photo 1). During his performances, Robert pays homage to Bach, Gershwin and Sonny Boy Williamson (clip 1). Tommy Morgan, on the other hand, spends most of his time in the studio rather than on the stage (clip 1, clip 2). And, Marv and Mickey Milgrim-Wolf are just as happy promoting the harmonica by selling a large variety of them in their Harmonica Store (clip 1, clip 2).
British classical harmonica player Douglas Tate (1934-2005), the only non-American SPAH President, publishes Play the Harmonica Well for advanced chromatic players, followed by Make Your Harmonica Work Better. American Kim Field releases a first edition of his wonderful book Harmonicas, Harps and Heavy Breathers. The second edition wiil come out in 2000.
He will attend future SPAH conventions, but this year Canadian Carlos del Junco receives gold medals at the World Harmonica Championships in Trossingen in both the blues and jazz categories (clip 1).
Martin Haeffner and Christoph Wagner publish Made in Germany – Played in the USA, a history of the harmonica.
Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) was invited, frequently and unsuccessfully over the years, to attend a SPAH convention. However, he does actually play a little as reported in these newsclips (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3). Playing more regularly are the Original Harmonica Sounds (clip 1). But, it is the annual SPAH convention that makes the headlines (clip1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4). No stranger to the SPAH stage or just hanging out with everyone at the convention, Charlie Musselwhite talks about some of the positive changes in his life style (cliup 1, clip 2) and how the harmonica entered his life (clip 1, clip 2).
Saxophone playing President Bill Clinton is presented with a Joe Filisko custom harmonica by Kenny Loggins (photo 1). Winslow Yerxa takes a more humorous approach to the event in his Harmonica Information Publication. There is however, a strong connection between the harmonica and American Presidents (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4).
The Toronto Blues Society features “Harp”, an article by Heather Kelly about some of Toronto’s harp players, in its Newsletter (page 1, page 2). Canada issues a postage stamp on Aug. 12, 1994, honoring Mary Travers (1894-1941), the Canadian Quebecois singer and harmonica player, more affectionately known as “La Bolduc”. Look closely at the background sketch on the stamp and you will see a harmonica in her hands. Many of the eighty plus songs she recorded from 1929-39, feature the harmonica along with her vocals.
The highlight of the year is the performance of brothers Larry and Jerry Adler at the SPAH Convention. The St. Louis Gateway Harmonica club hosts Variety Revue while Rothrist, Switzerland, holds its Mundharmonika Festival. Further afield in Australia, Ray Grieve publishes A Band in a Waistcoat Pocket. John Popper adds his unique harmonica riffs to Blues Traveler’s jamming style (clip 1).
Harmonica players, many of them older, gather for the 33rd SPAH Convention (clip 1). One of the players is Jerry Adler (clip 1). The harmonica also appears at a political gathering (clip 1). However, there is no age barrier when it comes to the harmonica. Brody Buster is only 11 years old and he plays beyond his age.(clip 1, clip 2).
Al and Judy Smith begin their popular series of workshops for lead, chord and bass players at the SPAH Conventions, a program that will run until 2014.
Louis Delin publishes Backstage Harmonica, a memoir of his career, with these words of wisdom. “Half the world plays a harmonica,and the other half wishes it could.”
The US Post Office releases a series of stamps, the “Legends of American Music”, on Jun. 26, 1998, one of which features Sonny Terry (1911-1986) on a 32 cent stamp playng the harmonica.
Since the days of Walt Disney’s (1901-1966) Mickey Mouse, cartoon mice have been playing the harmonica (cartoon1, cartoon 2). Apes and monkeys have been playing the harmonica since Darwin’s (1809-182) time when he serenaded Jenny the orangatan in the London Zoological Gardens and then gave her the harmonica to play. So, of couse there is a monkey cartoon. And certainly, man’s best friend is not to be overlooked when it comes to musical talent (cartoon).
Bob Higgins, after 50 years of performing and entertaining, is inducted into the the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame (clip 1). He also stays busy performing at local music events (clip 1).The Toronto Blues Society features local player, Michael Pickett, outlining his harmonica contributions over the years (clip 1, clip 2).
John Popper, who was to perform at the Red Rock amphitheater in Morrison Colorado, has some tough times (clip 1).
Toronto’s Bill Wen (1931-2001) is a restauranteur, community leader and harmonica player. He received the Order of Canada in 1987. A local group of Toronto harmonica players organize two harmonica shows each year, called Harmonica Happenings. One is held in the spring in a hall provided free of charge in Bill Wen’s restaurant, Sai Woo. The other show is in the fall in Waterloo, Ontario, in a trailer park community center hall provided by SPAH member Ken Smith (1931-2011). Since the mid 1990s, more than one hundred harmonica players are attracted by poster and flyer to attend these events.
Hering, the harmonica manufacturing company in Brazil, gets into the blues harp market and Peter “Madcat” Ruth brings the new harp to SPAH (clip 1, clip 2). The diatonic harmonica also makes its way into the Heart and Lung Center in New Jersey where it is used for breathing exercises to improve health, a role that the harmonica will continue to play in the future (clip 1).
Somewhere during this decade, a fashion trend or harmonica statement re-emerges. Have you noticed how many harmonica players, not just the country and western players, are wearing hats of some sort? Brandon Bailey, Jimi Lee, John Shirley, Will Scarlett, Billy Branch and Mark Hummel are just a few of them. Go back to the 1920s and 30s to find the trend setters like both Sonny Boys, Sonny Boy I (John Lee Williamson 1914-1948) and Sonny Boy II (Rice Miller 1912-1965) and Jimmy Warner.
Toronto SPAH member Dianne Fries, with friends, takes the harmonica into the Institude of Child Study, University of Toronto, where about 40 children attend to listen and learn and hopefully become future harmonica players (photo 1 (l-r:Jim Broomer, Dianne, Manfred & Terry Anderson), photo 2, photo 3, photo 4).
Carlos del Junco has a unique sound and harmonica technique that is internationally recognizable and is a part of a larger Toronto harmonica community (clip 1, clip 2). Local harmonica player Franco Scocco, on his way to play at a local food court is struck by a car (clip 1). The harmonica is a part of Titanic history. When the ship sank on Apr. 14, it supposedly took Swedish Alma Paulson, who played harmonica for her children (clip 1, clip 2).
Hartmut Berghoff publishes “Marketing Diversity: The Making of a Global Consumer Product-Hohner’s Harmonicas, 1857-1930” in Enterprise and Society. It tells the story of how the Hohner family moves marketing “to center stage”.
SPAH’s 39th Convention is in Columbus, Ohio. This year marks the advent of both the Joe Filisko Teach-In, a three day series of mini-workshops that are still being run to-date and the Kids Program, also still running, designed to introduce the the harmonica to younger children in the cities in which SPAH holds its Conventions.
It had to happen, the book that every harmonica player was waiting for (book 1).
Dallas, Texas hosts the 40th Convention.
Al Eichler publishes the American Harmonica Newsmagazine about all things harmonica while in Germany Martin Haeffner and Lars Lindenmueller create harmonica history with their Harmonica Makers of Germany and Austria to the delight of every harmonica collector.
Like his brother Larry, Jerry Adler is also a player and a writer. He publishes Living from Hand to Mouth. There was obviously some rivalry bewteen the two brothers as they sometimes both relate the same story. By the way, SPAH’s inhouse guitar player for the nightly Blues Jam is Dan Ruppa, who also happens to be Jerry’s step son-in-law.
In Toronto, Carlos del Junco opens for Dr. John and dazzles the audience (clip 1, clip 2). Both Toronto and Montreal have subway systems and buskers who play those venues. In the National Film Board documentary “Music for a Blue Train”, Bad News Brown, a harmonica-playing ex-street kid, “breathes passion” into the film (clip 1). Ralph Paulson, who carried his harmonica into the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily, still plays his harmonica (clip 1).
The story of Pete Pedersen is told by Jaine Rodack in Be of Good Cheer. Pete lived in Toronto during the early 1980s and played in the local clubs. SPAH member Richard Martin reelases Waltzes for Harmonica Ensembles. But the big event of the year, is the beautifully illustrated Hohner the Living Legend, more harmonica history by Haik Wenzel and Martin Haeffner.
Kris Kristofferson does play harmonica during his performances; however, on this occasion in Toronto, his playing is described as “some pathetic wailing on brace harmonica that the singer finally abandoned as unworthy” (clip1).
44th Convention is held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Harmonica players are a diverse group of people. SPAH member Roger Myerson, for example, holds a Phd. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard. For his work he received a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. As a harmonica player, he presents seminars on various tunings such as fourkey and pentabender.
Carey Bell (1936-2007), who was part of the Chicago blues harmomica scene and toured and recorded with Muddy Waters, dies (clip 1). So does Gary Primich (1958-2007) who performed at the SPAH Conventions.
The National Harmonica League (NHL) still produces its magazine, Harmonica World. Roger Trobridge has been active with the NHL since joining in 1998, as Chairman from 2000 to 2013 and Magzine Editor from 2002 until today. His passion for things harmonica is unlimited.
Trossingen celebrates 150 years of Hohner harmonicas (ad 1, ad 2). The local papers run harmonica news stories (clip 1) and promote harmonica collectors such as Harland Crain and John Whiteman (clip 1). The town is also planning to set a world record for the largest Harmonica Orchestra (clip 1). Music Trade helps Hohner celebrate by publishing “Hohner’s Iconic Harmonica: The Ultimate Accessory Item” (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6).
St. Louis, Missouri, hosts the 45th SPAH Convention (page 1). Hering releases the Stan Harper 56, a harmonica model built for Stan’s style of playing. I recall that it was Stan who purchased my entire hoard of older Hering Membi 48s. Lee Oskar celebrates 25 years years of manufacturing his harmonicas by touring with other players, .
Finally, after making all of us wait so long, Al Smith releases his Confessions of Harmonica Addicts, a must-read for anyone with the slightest interest in the harmonica story. The story and the photos make it essential for your collection. More importantly, Al was there, living this harmonica life when this harmonica history was being made. Another harmonica milestone is the release of Harmonica for Dummies. This title has to be the best oxymoron of the decade. The book’s author, player, teacher and writer, SPAH’s Winslow Yerxa, is a walking encyclopedia of not only all things harmonica, but also of all things music. He has also written Blues Harmonica for Dummies (2012). Lee Oskar celebrates the 25th Anniversary of Lee Oskar Harmonicas by touring with other players, including stops in Toronto (page 1, page 2, page 3). He describes what makes his harmonicas different from the others (page 1).
In Oakville, Ontario, the Harmoni-Chords celebrate 35 years of playing and publish their history (book 1). I have been the chord player for this group since 2010. Ingo Andersen, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, who is well known on the SPAH stage for his chromatic skills, is the leader of our present group. As with all harmonica groups and clubs, finding new members, not beginners, as we do not teach, is a never-ending task. Canadian folk artist, Willie P. Bennett (1951-2008) dies. He released his own records, so you can still hear him play harmonica and he shows up as a studio musician, playing harmonica tracks on albums by Gordon Lightfoot, Fread Eaglesmith and others (clip 1). Carlos del Junco, active in the Toronto music community, offers his opinion, shared by many other harmonica players, of the Bob Dylan and Neil Young style of playing the instrument, a style copied by many other folk artists as well (clip 1).
As more harmonica people from around the world, make the pilgrimage to Trossingen, Germany, the Hohner Co. provides some visitor guides, such as On the Tracks of the Company’s Founder Mathias Hohner using the German Harmonica Museum’s publications to self-guide tourists. Another booklet follows in 2013 (booklet 1). The German Harmonica Museum is busy with a number of exhibits (booklet 1, booklet 2, booklet 3). Austria issues a fake postage stamp commemorating Hohner’s 175th Anniversary.
The 46th SPAH Convention takes place in Sacramento, Ca., hosted by the Harmonicoots. Founded in 2004 by Bud Gardener, this harmonica club is still active today. Go to YouTube to view many of their videos. The Hohner team arrives with Clay Edwards and Klaus Stetter. Henry Samuels (1923-2012), who has performed with England’s Morton Fraser’s Harmonica Gang and America’s Johnny Puleo’s Harmonica Gang performs at the Convention (flyer 1).
SPAH member, Mary Jane Gormley actively participates in the SPAH philosophy. She plays, teaches, writes, gives away harmonicas, presents seminars and supports the concept of harmonicas for health to the limit. She and Larry Vesely co-author Harmonicas for Health: A Guide to Breathing Better.
Vince Socci, a Scoutmaster produces the Campfire Harmonica as a teaching tool for the Scouts.
Things are busy in Trossingen, Germany. Hohner with Martin Haeffner produce Isn’t She Lovely:The Harmonica in Popular Music while Frank Martin releases the story, in German, of the Koch Harmonica Co. and family in his Das besteingerichtete Etablissement der Branche.
Jerry Adler dies (clip 1).
In his article, “The Twitch: Objects as Emotions” (Now Write! Screenwriting, New York: Penguin, 2010), William Martell analyses the 1968 movie, Once Upon a Time in the West. The twitch is a technique to show a character’s thoughts and feelings, in this instance, of a character named Harmonica, portrayed by Charles Bronson. The harmonica is “used as a symbol of the turmoil bubbling within the character’s mind” (p. 217). The same book also contains an article by Karey Kirkpatrick, “The Emotionally Charged Icon” that deals with Red (Morgan Freeman) in 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption, a movie about prison life. Red receives a harmonica and plays only one note. It then becomes a symbol of hope for freedom. Once released, he plays the harmonica more frequently (p.131).
Doug Dawson displays some more of his beautiful harmonicas (page 1, page 2). Canadian Benjamin Darville played harmonica with the Crash Test Dummies before he becomes Son of Dave, a harpman of some renown, playing his own kind of music. (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3, clip 4). After further research, Toronto universities, such as York, advocate that music, including the playing of the harmonica, can boost your brain functions (clip 1). The University of Toronto opens a new research center to study the curative power of music and offers a doctoral program on the subject (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5). And certainly, due to its cost, size and playability, the harmonica easily fits into such a program.
The 48th SPAH Convention moves to Virginia Beach, Va. Canadian SPAH member Dr. John Schaman releases his Medical Harmonica, a unique instrument that can be used by musical therapists and harmonica players in general (page 1, page 2). During the Convention, the chord harmonica that Al Fiore used in the 1947 recording of “Peg of my Heart” was presented to the Hohner Co. for display, with a final destination in the German Harmonica Museum (page 1).
Steve Jobs (1955-2011) dies. Although he is known more for his Apples, he does have a stash of harps in his office (photo 1).
In Trossingen, Germany, Martin Haeffner celebrates an anniversary with the release of 20 Years German and Accordion Museum.
Irving, Texas holds the the 49th Convention.
Joe Powers, following the traditions of other of the Argentinian tango players, gets to tell his story of how he started (clip 1). Paul McCartney appears on the cover of the Rolling Stone with a Little Lady (photo1).
The harmonica shows up in the the world of art in the form of this Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) painting (page 1). John Broecker writes Archaic Adventures: Harmonica Evolution 2696 B.C. – 2110 A.D. Stan Kay first heard the harmonica in 1944 and has been playing ever-since (page 1, page 2).
Toronto’s Carlos del Junco earns more press time due to his musical versatility (clip 1). Jack Layton (1950-2011), a harmonica player who may have become the Prime Minister of Canada, dies (clip 1, clip 2). William Tennison also dies. Bill played harmonica with his friend Henry Cuesta (1931-2003), Lawrence Welk’s (1903-1992) clarinet player. Bill’s other passion was collecting Cornelius Krieghoff (1815-1872) paintings, a passion he shared with another friend, newspaper mogul Kenneth Thomson (1923-2006) , Lord Thomsom of Fleet, once Canada’s richest man. And finally, Bill was involved with the Boy Scouts, another harmonica connection, for over 70 years.
The German Harmonica Museum features the Chromonica in its next exhibition.2013
SPAH celebrates a 50th Anniversary in St. Louis. Missouri. A harmonica souvenir is given to each banquet guest. The State of Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder issues a Special Tribute to celebrate the event. For the first time, the convention seminar program features a large film and history component (page 1), including screenings of Marc Lempert and Todd Slobin’s harmonica documentary Pocket Full of Soul. A strong SPAH supporter and world-class harmonica collector, Harland Crain gets some press time (clip 1, clip 2). Richard Harris, the last surviving SPAH cofounder, is interviewed (clip 1).
Professor John Shirley, Chairman of the Music Dept., University of Massachusetts Lowell, contacts SPAH, proposing that the University be considered for a SPAH Convention. He will become a SPAH member and regular seminar presenter, sharing his expertise and placing the harmonica into the world of modern technology at the Conventions.
Canadian harmonica collector Doug Dawson is featured on the TV show Collectors. The host and appraiser is Andrew Zegers while Carlos del Junco demonstrates the harmonicas. The University of Toronto hosts a conference on music therapy that includes harmonica player Murray McLauchlan (clip 1).
The German Harmonica Museum presents The Hohner Collection, a thematic display of some unique harmonicas and The History of the Harmonica, outlining a brief harmonica history and a listing of the Museum’s publications.
SPAH holds its 51st Convention in St. Louis, Missouri.
The harmonica world loses Richard Hayman (1920-2014).
Neil Young performs in Toronto, using a variety of instruments including the racked harmonica, played in his recognizable style (clip 1, clip 2). If you listen to Neil’s album, Old Ways (Geffen, 1985), a country album, you can hear Terry McMillan (1953-2007) playing the harmonica. The Toronto Blues Society hold a harmonica workshop hosted by Carlos del Juncos (flyer 1)
Matthias Hohner (1883-1902), after 180 years, gets his picture on a German postage stamp (ad 1),
Denver hosts the 52nd Convention.
Harland Crain tells the story of Bobby Breen and displays a few of his harmonica box labels, each a miniature art work (page 1, page 2). Another collector creates a listing of harmonicas manufactured in the United States (page 1, page 2). Harvey Coburn collects (photo 1); but, he is a player as well, appearing on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
Danny Wilson provides a copy of BassHarp’s Journal: A Personal Record of Harmonica Activities 1969-2008. This is Danny’s journal of every gig and event he attended over his long career. He was the previous SPAH Historian, so you know he kept detailed and reliable records.
Kevin Hamilton of Dunnville, Ontario, hosts an Annual Harmonica Retreat, this one featuring local instructors Carlos del Junco and Roly Platt, and SPAH’s Ronnie Shellist (photo 1).
SPAH President Michael D’Eath, in a first for the SPAH, moves the Convention to a down-town location in San Antonio, Texas for for the 53rd Convention (schedule). Winslow Yerxa invites harmonica playing Timothy M. Kaine, running for Vice President of the USA, to attend the SPAH Convention. He is unable attend (letter 1).
SPAH member Dana Keller does attend and advocates playing the harmonica for better health by participating in the Harmonica and Health seminars. He also promotes and demonstrates the Pulmonica, a harmonica designed for breathing therapy, stress reduction and more (page 1, page 2).
Tom Halchak makes Sonny Terry (1911-1986), Saunders Terrell, part of the 53rd Convention by having a group of players perform on Sonny’s own harmonicas and in his style. Delores Boyd, Sonny’s niece, attends the event and displays his memorabilia.
Harmonica collectorJohn Whiteman releases his Harmonica Anthology (10th ed.). This is the ultimate source DVD for harmonica collectors and researchers. Harland Crain and Ken van Ettan, both collectors, display beautifully colored harmonica box labels (photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4).
The Toronto Blues Society is an active supporter of local blues harmonica players, using them to host, almost annually, a Harmonica Workshop. Chromatic harmonica player Ed Auty, a member of our Oakville group the Harmonichords, performs at a local variety show (clip 1). During the 1950s, he was one of many in the Toronto area who took lessons from Fred Mather, given at various youth social clubs and then got involved with harmonica groups such as the Neopolitan Knights (photo 1, l-r:Frank Lemick, Len Lewis, Ed Auty).
Michael Burton, member of several groups and no stranger to the SPAH stage, sends in a letter of appreciation (letter 1). Jack Hopkins, a very active SPAH and Capitol Harmonica Club member, has been playing the harmonica for over 90 years. It’s not unusual for him to attract media attention (clip 1, clip 2). SPAH member Charlie McCoy releases 50 Cents and a Box Top. In it, he mentions his association with SPAH and the opportunity to meet other harmonica players at the conventions. Vern Morgus, also familiar to SPAH Convention goers, helps organize the 29th Annual Pacific Northwest Harmonica Jamboree.
SPAH member Larry Regen (on right) attends his 10th Convention. He is a strong SPAH supporter, presenting seminars and bringing his harmonica students, more than 30 over the years, to the Conventions (photo bc).
Monika’s Blues is the story of an African and a German American harmonica journey written by Herbert Quelle. It makes the connection between the blues and a German instrument. Following the scholastic path to a Master’s Degree, Mikael Baekmann writes One Lick – Two Harps, a look at playing both the chromatic and diatonic harmonica.
Canadian SPAH member Ken Backwell is the front-man and leader of the Souper Jazz Band (photo 1). In its 25 years of existence, this very active playing group has raised more than $500,000. for charities. Not only does Ken help preserve the harmonica with his passion for the instrument, but he uses it to help others as well.
The St. Louis Gateway Harmonica Club hosts its 7th SPAH Convention, SPAH’s 55th (sched 1, sched 2). SPAH issues another decal to attract new members. Spah member and Stage Manager Christopher Richards produces and hosts his 5th International Blues Blowoff (previously a.k.a. the Blues Blowoff), a non-SPAH event supporting SPAH and youth programs. It is a successful, sold-out event. Joe Filisko has been organizing and hosting the Teach-In since 2002. The list of presenters with unique harmonica skills keeps growing (flyer 1). The St. Louis Post-Dispach covers the Convention (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5).
Dominic “Tony” Boscarino is 97 years young, still playing harmonica. In 1962 he responded to Earl Collins’ newspaper ads for harmonica players and became a member of SPAH serving as Sergeant at Arms from 1963-1966 and Vice President in 1967. He played with the Harmonica Hobos and the Harmonica Rhythmaires (l-r: Phil Acquaro, Joe DeFobio, Carl Garwood, Gordon Mitchell, and Dominic “Tony” Boscarino).
John Whiteman releases A Collection of Early Harmonica Box Art : 1890-1940, a CD containing a wealth of information and beautiful images (page 1, page 2). Collector Harland Crain is visited by Ozzy, Jack and Kelly Osborne to view and film his collection for a TV show, Ozzy & Jack’s World. The program is not shown; but, Harland is featured in Antique Week (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4).
Have you got a spare $13,750.00? That could have purchased, at the Heritage Auctions, a Marine Band harmonica and neck brace used by Bob Dylan in 1961. In 1988, another of his harmonicas sold for $1,500.00 at an auction to benefit the Philadelphia Music Foundation (Globe & Mail 11.10: CO5). The harmonica, John Lennon used on the Beatles’ first album, went up for auction on November 14 and 15, 1991, at Great Gatsby’s Auction House (GM 11.11: CO3). No purchase price was published. By 1997, a Lennon harmonica sold for $1,000.00 and by 2001, the price had risen to $3,400.00. During a recent “Car Pool Karaoke” segment on the Late Late Show with James Corden, Paul McCartney plays a few notes on a harmonica while visiting childhood sites. He just happened to have one with him? Lucky Roger Trobridge gets to tour the the Abbey Road Studios that echo with Beatle harmonica sounds.
Blues harmonica player, Leslie Carswell Johnson, known as Lazy Lester (1923-2018), dies. He can be heard in the most recent Geico commercial.