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Radio Bristol Book Club: Trampoline

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library are coming together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we will dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

Trampoline is the story of 15-year-old Dawn Jewell, her life with her family in eastern Kentucky, and the struggles that she faces. Dawn is sarcastic, takes issue with authority, and is laboring over the concept of who she is versus who she wants to become. So, a fairly typical teenager – but, as everyone knows, those times feel anything other than normal. Compounded by her choice to join her Mamaw’s social fight against the already economically strapped area’s main industry “Big Coal,” thus finding herself a persona-non-grata in her own town, comfort is hard to come by for our protagonist. Though Trampoline features Gipe’s perfectly complementary drawings, this is no comic book and certainly more novel than graphic. This work is written in a traditional sense that will appeal to those who relate to the setting as well as those who may be passing through. Will Dawn stay and find her way through, or choose flight over fight and abandon the mountains that need her possibly more than she needs them? Read Trampoline with us and find out!

The cover of the book is a black-and-white pen drawing showing a young girl with dissheveled hair, glasses, and a graphic t-shirt. She looks to the side.
The cover of Robert Gipe’s Trampoline with his distinctive drawing style.

Author Robert Gipe was born in Kingsport, Tennessee. He now resides in Harlan County, Kentucky, where he directed the Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College Appalachian Program (1997 to 2018). He is also a producer of the Higher Ground community performance series, has directed the Southeast Kentucky Revitalization Project, coordinated the Great Mountain Mural Mega Fest, co-produces the Hurricane Gap Community Theater Institute, and advises on It’s Good To Be Young in the Mountains, a youth-driven conference. He formerly worked for the Appalshop Art Center in Whitesburg, Kentucky, as well. In 2015 Gipe won the Weatherford Award for outstanding Appalachian novel for Trampoline, his very first novel. This volume is now accompanied by second (Weedeater, 2018) and third (Pop, ​2021) books as a series, all three of which are published by Ohio University Press.

The author is a white man with strawberry blond hair and beard. He is wearing a grey t-shirt with two green snakes in the central design and a pair of black-rimmed glasses. He is seated on some steps surrounded by potted plants, including tomatoes.
This portrait of author Robert Gipe was taken by Amelia Kirby.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, May 27 at 12:00pm for the book discussion, which will be followed with an interview with author Robert Gipe! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this book’s interesting story and engaging format. And if you have thoughts or questions about this book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – and your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for June is Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers by Charlie Louvin; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, June 24. Check out our full list of 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

1927: From Babe Ruth to Country Music

Today is National Babe Ruth Day!

Did you know that the summer of 1927 saw a whole host of important historic and cultural milestones, including Babe Ruth’s home run record and, of course, the 1927 Bristol Sessions? Author Bill Bryson’s book One Summer: America, 1927 explores that amazing summer in his usual charming and fact-fueled style, and – along with today’s celebration of Babe Ruth – serves as inspiration for this April 27 blog post, which goes down rabbit holes and tangents to explore other 1927 connections!

But first, what does Bryson’s book cover? Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis on May 20—21 is one of the topics, along with Calvin Coolidge’s presidency and his decision not to run for a second full term in 1928 and the Great Mississippi Flood, which had its beginnings in 1926 and ended up covering 27,000 square miles in water and displacing thousands of people from their homes and land. Bryson also tackles the controversial trial and execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists accused of armed robbery and murder; the introduction of Ford’s new Model A car; and the release of the first talkie, The Jazz Singer. And then, of course, Bryson shares the story of the New York Yankees’ achievements on the baseball diamond in the summer of 1927 – with 110 wins and 44 losses, a sweeping victory in the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Babe Ruth hitting his 60th home run of the season on September 30, setting a record that wouldn’t be broken for 34 years.

Left: Black-and-white image of Babe Ruth -- a large man -- standing in a baseball stance with the bat on his shoulder. The baseball stadium is in the background.
Top right: The small silver Spirit of St. Louis is suspended from the ceiling of the museum. It's name is written on the airplane's nose.
Bottom right: A red old-fashioned looking car.

Babe Ruth photographed in his batting stance (National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress); the Spirit of St. Louis on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.; and a Ford Model A car (Wikimedia Commons).

So what about country music? Well, of course, the summer of 1927 also saw the Bristol Sessions being recorded between July 25 and August 5. With performers like Ernest Stoneman – an experienced and prolific musician in the burgeoning hillbilly music industry – and hugely impactful newcomers like The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, along with a host of other interesting artists and recordings, the 1927 Bristol Sessions became known as “the big bang of country music.” Sadly, the Sessions did not make it into Bryson’s book – maybe they’ll make an appearance in a later edition, fingers crossed! – though the Library of Congress has recognized them as among the 50 most significant sound recordings of all time.

Large metal historic marker with the Tennessee symbol of three stars on a blue background with red border at the top. The words briefly describe the Bristol Sessions. A brick building can be seen in the background.

This historic marker about the 1927 Bristol Sessions is located next to the Birthplace of Country Music’s offices at 416 State Street, the former site of the Taylor-Christian Hat Company building where the 1927 Bristol Sessions were recorded. © Bristol Herald Courier

But are there other country music stories to be found in 1927? Interestingly, we can connect Charles Lindberg to country music through two 1927 recordings by Vernon Dalhart: “Lindbergh (The Eagle of the USA)” and “Lucky Lindy!” Both of these records sold well, and a couple of other hillbilly performers also had big hits in 1927 – Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers with “John Henry (Steel-Drivin’ Man)” and Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers with “White House Blues.”

Three record labels:
Left, red label for Champion Records detailing the title and performer's name.
Center, black Columbia label detailing the title and performer's name.
Right, black Columbia label detailing the title and performer's name.

Record labels for Vernon Dalhart’s “Lindbergh (The Eagle of the U.S.A.),” Gid Tanner’s “John Henry (Steel-Drivin’ Man),” and Charlie Poole’s “White House Blues.”

There were also several country and bluegrass stars born in 1927:

  • Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley (February 25)
  • Carl Smith (March 15), known as “Mister Country” and once married to June Carter
  • Charlie Louvin (July 27), part of the Louvin Brothers and a member of the Grand Ole Opry
  • Nudie-suited performer and TV personality Porter Wagoner (August 12), who introduced Dolly Parton to the world in 1967 via The Porter Wagoner Show
  • Jimmy C. Newman (August 29), country music performer and Cajun singer-songwriter
  • Songwriter Harlan Howard (September 8)
  • Leon Rausch (October 2), known as “the voice” of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
  • Patti Page (November 8), crossover pop and country artist
  • Bob Ferguson (December 30), a musician and producer who was instrumental in establishing Nashville as country music’s center

For a few more musical connections to 1927, first take a look at the pages from a 1927 Sears Roebuck catalog. While these catalogs were produced yearly and so this isn’t unique to 1927, it is a great insight into what kinds of instruments you could buy from Sears Roebuck and what the 1927 prices were! And then there were two milestones in American radio history that are tied to 1927. The U.S. Federal Radio Commission (later known as the FCC) began to regulate radio frequencies on February 23, 1927. And on September 18 of that year, the country saw the debut of CBS, which went on air with 47 radio stations, later becoming a powerhouse in the new technology of television.

Three images of Sears Roebuck 1927 catalog:
Left, the catalog cover shwoing a man and woman poring over the catalog together, with a dog or cat at their feet. A woman in a big hat is in the corner of the cover, and the words The Roaring Twenties are seen at the bottom.
Center: A page filled with different banjos with descriptions and prices.
Right: A page filled with different guitars with descriptions and prices.

This facsimile of the 1927 Sears Roebuck catalog is in the museum’s collections and on display in our permanent exhibits. © Birthplace of Country Music

These are just a few of the stories and historical or cultural moments from 1927 – there are many, many more beyond my primary focus here on music connections. And so to finish this post off, why don’t you go down your own rabbit hole? The Smithsonian, always a great source of information on any and all topics, can get you started with a trove of treasures that all connect to the year 1927, some discussed above, some more obscure, but all interesting. You can check out these objects and images here.

Radio Bristol Book Club: Affrilachian Tales – Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore a book inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at our NEW TIME of 12:00pm when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

This month’s Radio Bristol Book Club pick is Lyn Ford’s Affrilachian Tales: Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition. While the stereotypical Appalachian person is of Scots Irish or German descent, Ford’s wonderful collection of folktales reveals the region’s sometimes hidden diversity in this collection of delightful tales derived from African-American Appalachian oral tradition.  While the stories have universal appeal, it’s their rustic charm that lifts the collection – including tales such as “Why Possum’s Tail is Bare,” “Turtle Wants to Fly,” and “Jack and the Old Woman.” Even though the book is only about 150 pages long, it includes important autobiographical and historical information to put the tales in context.

The cover of Affrilachian Tales shows a grey wooden barn with a split rail fence around it and the pasture in the foreground. Trees in autumn colors are behind the barn.

The cover of Lyn Ford’s Affrilachian Tales.

This is a book to be shared with family, whether in front of a fire or wrapped in a blanket on the porch under the stars.  These tales are meant to be loved, learned, and passed down to the next generation.

Lyn Ford is nationally recognized as an award-winning fourth-generation storyteller, author and educator. She is an Affrilachian storyteller and a “keeper and adapter” of her family’s stories. She has shared her stories in 29 states and Ireland, and she says that her career as a storyteller has been fortuitous because storytelling has been a part of her family’s tradition for generations.  Her stories are “adaptations of folktales, spooky tales, and original stories rooted in her family’s multicultural African-American Appalachian (Affrilachian) heritage.” Lyn’s favorite storyteller is her father, Edward M. Cooper, whom she says was “the best storyteller she ever heard, and the worse cook in the family” – which sounds like the beginnings of a story itself! You can check out one of Lyn’s stories here.

An image of a Black woman with grey, curly, chin-length hair. She is smiling widely. She wears a black and white patterned top with a red, black, and white scarf around her neck.

Author Lyn Ford.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, April 22 at 12:00pm! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on the stories and tales told by Ford, and we’ll also be talking to the author after our discussion so you can also get her perspective!

If you have any thoughts or questions about this book that you would like to share with our readers (and listeners!), you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead, we will be reading Trampoline by Robert Gipe for our May book club, airing on Thursday, May 27, 12:00pm. And you can see the full 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club list and listen to archived book clubs here.

Radio Bristol Book Club: Where the Dead Sit Talking

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore a book inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage. We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 11:00am when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

A beautifully written Native American coming-of-age story, Where the Dead Sit Talking follows 15-year-old Sequoyah’s journey through the foster care system in rural Oklahoma in the late 1980s. Scarred by years of trauma living with a mother struggling with drug addiction, Sequoyah keeps mostly to himself in his new foster home until he meets fellow house-mate Rosemary, a 17-year-old artist. The two connect over their shared Indigenous heritage and journey through the foster care system, but the uncertainty of their living situation and the trauma that has come from that presents itself as a major hurdle the two will have to face – together or on their own.

The book cover is red with a black graphic of an eagle in the Native art style at the top of the cover and the title in white beneath it. It has a sticker on it saying "National Book Award Finalist."

The cover of Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson bears a striking Indigenous art-inspired graphic.

Author Brandon Hobson is an assistant professor of Creative Writing at New Mexico State University and a teacher at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He has three other published novels – the most recent one, The Removed, has been lauded as “a striking new benchmark for fiction about Native Americans” by the LA Times. Where the Dead Sit Talking, published in 2018, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, winner of the In the Margins Book Award for Fiction, and an NPR Code Switch Best Book of the Year. Hobson is also an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation Tribe.

A man with dark brown hair and a short beard sits on the floor in front of a window. He is wearing glasses, a plaid/flannel shirt, and jeans. Beside his is an old typewriter on a table.
Author Brandon Hobson.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, March 25 at 11:00am! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on Hobson’s difficult and important story!

If you have thoughts or questions about this book that you would like to share with our readers (and listeners!), you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – and your insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead, we will be reading Affrilachian Tales: Folktales from the African-American Appalachian Tradition by Lyn Ford for our April book club, airing on Thursday, April 22, 11:00am. You can see the full 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club list here.

Speaking Up! Advocate to Highlight Your Museum’s Impact on the Community, State, Nation, and Beyond

Each year the American Alliance of Museums organizes Museums Advocacy Day, an event aimed at preparing and enabling public history professionals and individuals who are passionate about museums to speak directly with their Congressional representatives about policy issues that directly affect museums. This year, the event starts today – February 22 – with several sessions focused on the issues and how to advocate, which will then be followed tomorrow by a day of Congressional meetings to talk to representatives and/or their staff about why they should support museums and their work. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole event this year will be virtual, which may seem like a disadvantage, but actually it makes speaking with elected officials and advocacy easier and more accessible. In fact, it is the first year that members of our curatorial staff have been able to attend!

But, what makes museums so important? Why should we advocate for museums? And what can you do today to support your local museum?

Why Are Museums Important?

In all probability, if you’re reading this blog post, you already have a love for museums. So I want you to think about the first time you went to a museum. Did you feel giddy with excitement and wonder as you looked in the beautiful glass cases that housed items ancient and seemingly ripped from our collective imagination? Did you tell your friends and teachers about all of the neat facts you learned and all of the cool objects you saw? Did you perhaps decide to go to your local museum’s summer camp or their other public events after this initial visit? I always come out of museums refreshed and grounded by a deeper understanding of the represented community and also a deeper understanding of myself. And then I want to see and learn more.

Photo of blond woman holding a baby and pointing at an image on the museum's wall. Both of them have expressions of wonder on their faces.

Visitors engage with the Things Come Apart special exhibit, which was featured at the museum in 2017. One good experience can lead to continued support of your museum in a variety of ways, including advocating for your mission and work. © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

These feelings are not unfounded. The American Alliance of Museums has done extensive research on the impact museums have on the individual, community, education, and the economy. Here are just a few of their findings:

  • Museums support more than 726,000 American jobs.
  • Museums contribute $50 billion to the U.S. economy each year.
  • Children who visited a museum during kindergarten had higher achievement scores in reading, mathematics, and science in third grade than children who did not. Children who are most at risk for deficits and delays in achievement also see this benefit.
  • Americans view museums as one of the most important resources for educating our children and as one of the most trustworthy sources of objective information. According to a study by Indiana University, museums are considered a more reliable source of historical information than books, teachers, or even personal accounts by grandparents or other relatives.
  • In determining America’s Best Cities, Bloomberg Business Week placed the greatest weight on “leisure amenities [including density of museums], followed by educational metrics and economic metrics…then crime and air quality.”
  • More people visited an art museum, science center, historic house or site, zoo, or aquarium in 2018 than attended a professional sporting event.
  • Museums also provide many social services, including programs for children on the autism spectrum, English as a Second Language classes, and programs for adults with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairments.
  • Since 2014, more than 500 museums nationwide have facilitated more than 2.5 million museum visits for low-income Americans through the Museums for All program.

To learn more about the awesome effects of museums at the individual, communal, and global level, visit the American Alliance of Museums’ website here – it’s full of great information!

Graphic with a map of the United States on one side that includes a focal point of Washington DC and then several colored lines reaching out in different ways to symbolize reaching people and advocating. To the left is a graphic of the Capitol dome with the words Museums Advocacy Day 2021 superimposed on it, along with the dates of this years Museums Advoacacy Day.

The AAM website graphic for Museums Advocacy Day 2021.

Why Advocate?

What does it even mean to advocate? On the most basic level to advocate is to publicly recommend or support – this definition of advocate could cover everything from recommending a friend to your current employer for an open position within the organization to supporting a local artist you love by sharing their work on your social media pages. On the political level, to advocate means to actively support a change to an issue or creation of program or solution on a local, state, or federal level. Political advocacy includes emailing, writing letters to, or calling your lawmakers; voicing your opinions or sharing other calls to action on your social media pages and tagging lawmakers in those posts; or participating in or supporting advocacy or action groups who are dedicated to specific issues.

But why get involved? AAM outlines several great reasons to advocate:

  • It is your right (and duty) as an American citizen to advocate for what you believe in.
  • It can bring about policy change that will make others’ lives better.
  • You can help speak up for those who may not be able to speak for themselves.
  • It is evidence of our political system at work – it helps fulfill checks and balances on the government.
  • It underlines that you are an active member of the community – politicians may be too far removed to really understand the issues and what is going on in communities.
  • It can actually accomplish something!
Image of several buttons that state: Ask me about my museum, with the AAM logo on them.

Buttons provided by AAM for a past Museums Advocacy Day encouraged those representatives and aides met on Capitol Hill to learn about individuals and their museums. Source: https://blooloop.com/museum/news/aam-museum-advocacy-day/

Finally, remember to keep an open mind about advocacy. It is no different than an institution participating in donor cultivation – museums are community centers that preserve, celebrate, and engage a community as a whole and as such it is acceptable to share that impact and advocate for these organizations.

What Can You Do as an Individual?

So…you think museums are amazing, and hopefully now advocacy doesn’t sound so intimidating, but what are some tangible action items you can do to help your local museum on the individual, rather than the institutional, level? Again, the American Alliance of Museums has a list of do-ables to help you advocate for the museums you love:

  • Contact your Congressional representative (contact information and templates can be found here) and tell them why your local museum is important to you and your community. And don’t just look at the national level – you can also contact your state and local representatives, where your words might have even more impact.
  • Learn from others about why they advocate and what issues they think are important.
  • Make advocacy a habit, not just a one-off action.
  • Stay informed on the issues important to your community.
  • Visit your local museum to learn more about their work and their contributions to your community.
  • Ask your favorite museum or historic/cultural organization how you can help!

For more information, check out the sources used for this post:

Radio Bristol Book Club: The Devil’s Dream

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore a book inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage. We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 11:00am when we will dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

The Devil’s Dream explores Appalachian culture, traditions, and family ties through the multi-generational saga of the Bailey family. Preacher’s son Moses Bailey believes that the fiddle is the voice of the devil and tries to quash his wife Kate Malone’s deep love of music. But there are some things that may be too powerful to deny… Avoiding Appalachian stereotypes, Smith tells the story – loosely based on the Carter Family – through strong characters whose voices are as distinct and as spiritual as the high lonesome sound.

Three covers of The Devil's Dream showing a woman playing guitar with a man behind here (left), an atmospheric photograph of a cabin in the woods (center), and a foggy wood with red leaves on the ground and a guitar learning against a tree (right).

The various manifestations of the cover of Lee Smith’s novel The Devil’s Dream evoke the story the book tells in different ways over the years.

Lee Smith is a native of Grundy, Virginia. She has written many novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Last Girls, along with Fair and Tender Ladies, Guests on Earth, Saving Grace, and Blue Marlin. She is a recipient of the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and a Southern Book Critics Circle Award.

Photograph of a woman with short blonde hair, smilling and wearing a turquoise shirt and earrings.
Lee Smith’s author photograph, taken from her official website.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, February 25 at 11:00am! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this book’s interesting story, told in the Appalachian voices of the people themselves. And if you have thoughts or questions about this book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – and your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for March is Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, March 25. Check out our full list of 2021 Radio Bristol Book Club picks here, where you can also listen to archived shows!

Instrument Interview: The Kazoo

“Instrument Interview” posts are a chance to sit down with the instruments of traditional, country, bluegrass, and roots music – from different types of instruments to specific ones related to artists, luthiers, and songwriters – and learn more about them. Ten questions are posed, and the instruments answer! Today we mark National Kazoo Day by talking to the kazoo!

I thought kazoos were just silly party favors, but you’re an actual musical instrument?

Well, I do have a reputation as a birthday party favor, probably to the extreme annoyance of many parents! But I am so much more than that. Kazoos are membranophones, where the tonal qualities of the instrument are produced as the player hums. I am also related to mirlitons, which are vibrating membrane instruments.

A metal kazoo on a display stand within a glass case with an interpretive label in front of it with a brief text about the kazoo.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum has a George D. Smith metal kazoo in our instrument gallery. It is on display courtesy of Kazoobie Kazoos, a plastic kazoo manufacturer in Beaufort, South Carolina. © Birthplace of Country Music

Where do you come from?

My ancestors go back to early mirlitons from Africa. They were made from cow horns or gourds, and their membranes were from spider egg silk. It must have been a tricky business to make them! These African horn-mirlitons were used for ceremonial purposes as a way to distort or mask the human voice.

Kazoo-like instruments are also known in ancient Mexico, though these looked more like recorders and the membrane was made from slivers of corn husk.

A lot of people think of the kazoo as an American instrument. How did you come about here in the States?

Different types of kazoo-like instruments, based on the African mirlitons and common in folk music, could be found in North America in the 1800s. But the kazoo as we know it is attributed to an African-American man named Alabama Vest who came up with the idea of this small instrument and then worked with Thaddeus von Glegg, a German clock manufacturer, to make his concept into reality in the 1840s.

How the kazoo went from Alabama Vest to mass production follows a couple of possible routes. The Historical Folk Toys site notes that a traveling salesman named Emil Sorg was charmed by Vest and von Glegg’s instrument, and so took the concept to create his own kazoos in New York, partnering with die-maker Michael McIntyre and starting production in 1912. McIntyre knew that to succeed, mass production was necessary and so he soon went into business with Harry Richardson, a large metal factory owner. By 1914 they were mass producing kazoos as the instrument’s popularity, and sales, skyrocketed. In 1916 their company became known as The Original American Kazoo Company, and McIntyre was awarded a patent on their kazoo in 1923. In 1994 The Original American Kazoo Company was producing 1.5 million kazoos per year! The company stayed in business until 2003, and the factory site now houses a kazoo museum.

However, the Vest-Sorg-McIntyre-Richardson kazoos were not the only ones being developed in America over this period. Another instrument – a “toy trumpet” that worked in a manner similar to the kazoo – was patented by Simon Seller in 1879. And the first instrument patented under the name “kazoo” was one created by Warren Herbert Frost – his patent was issued in 1883. However, the first metal kazoo was patented by George D. Smith in 1902.

What do you look like?

My basic shape is a tube where one end is larger and slightly flattened and the other is in the shape of a circle; both of my ends are open and uncovered. On top, I have another circular hole – known as the membrane hole – and a wax membrane can be found in the small chamber below this hole. I’ve been called “the Down South Submarine” because my shape resembles these underwater vessels.

Over the years, however, I have taken on many other shapes and forms, including being made directly in the shape of a submarine. Another example, a circa 1930 paper kazoo, was shaped like a 1920s-era microphone. Many kazoos have also been made in the shape of saxophones – Scott Paulson of the UC San Diego Library notes that “a good player could easily imitate a saxophone and create a debate: ‘kazoo or saxophone’”!

A variety of colorful plastic kazoos -- from common kazoo shapes to a pink saxophone shape to submarine/military ship shapes, to a trombone shape.

A collection of differently shaped kazoos. Courtesy UC San Diego Library

How are you played?

To play me, you should hum into the flattened opening. This makes the membrane vibrate, creating a sound that can be changed by the pitch, loudness, and nature of your humming. You can also alter the sound I make by covering the membrane hole, either in part or completely. Check out this video for a tutorial.

Many people make the mistake of blowing into me and then thinking I am broken as no sound comes out, but this will not work for creating kazoo music!

Are there any famous kazoo players or performances?

There are! Unsurpisingly you can hear the kazoo’s comic effect on Frank Zappa’s first album, Freak Out! Comb-and-paper kazoos appeared on the Beatles’ song “Lovely Rita” from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and Sir Paul McCartney played the kazoo on the 1975 Ringo Starr single “Sweet 16.” World Wrestling Federation duo Edge and Christian often brought their kazoos into the ring, driving their foes to distraction with their playing and often winning the bout as a result. Jimi Hendrix used a comb-and-paper kazoo on his 1968 recording of “Crosstown Traffic.” Kazoos – to imitate the sound of electric razors in an executive washroom – were also used in the song “I Believe in You” in the Broadway comedy How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Some performers made a career of their kazoo playing, such as Barbara Stewart who even performed at Carnegie Hall! And some composers have written their own kazoo music – for example, Mark Bucci composed his “Kazoo Concerto,” which premiered at a Leonard Bernstein Young Peoples’ Concert with the New York Philharmonic in 1960.

I’ve named just a few, but if you look for them you can find all sorts of famous kazoo performers or performances!

Were you played at the Bristol Sessions?

I sure was! Kazoos were commonly used in jug bands and comedy songs, and that is where you will find me on the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings. Ernest Stoneman joined together with different configurations of friends and family to record several songs for Ralph Peer in 1927. One of those configurations was made up of Stoneman, Bolen Frost, George Stoneman, Iver Edwards, Kahle Brewer, and Uncle Eck Dunford to form the Blue Ridge Cornshuckers singing “Old Time Corn Shuckin,’ Parts 1 and 2.” As the song progresses, Stoneman invites each musician to introduce himself, play a little bit, and then take a sip from the passing jug!

Even though you are a light-hearted – and fun to play – instrument, do you get used for serious purposes too?

Yes, indeed, I am sometime used in speech therapy to help strengthen oral and speech skills – for instance, kazoos can help children in the production and awareness of speech. We can also be used to help speech recovery for people who have suffered a brain injury, and to help in speech production and awareness for the deaf or hard of hearing. Kazoo use can even play a role in increasing respiration and oxygenation.

Left: Three popsicle kazoos decorated with stickers and colored markers. Right: Four toilet paper roll kazoos, painted to look like different fruits.
Fun and colorful make-at-home kazoos.

How do I make my own kazoo?

There are a few ways to make your own kazoo. You can make one using popsicle sticks, a straw, and rubber bands as seen here; using a toilet paper tube and wax paper as seen here; or the classic comb-and-paper version as seen here. Get crafting!

Anything else you want to share with us?

Special thanks to Scott Paulson of the UC San Diego Library for his help with kazoo facts and photos! The Library has hosted special events around National Kazoo Day for the past few years. Starting off from a challenge to use “serious library tools to investigate a light, playful topic,” the Library’s “kazoo salute” has included exhibits, live kazoo performances, and the commissioning of original kazoo music.

Finally, the kazoo is known as “the most democratic of all instruments” because ANYONE who can hum can play it! So give me a try!

Left: A man wearing a dark suit and glasses stands behind a tabletop glass case filled with kazoos. Right: A piece of kazoo music with two kazoos superimposed on top.

Scott Paulson with a UC San Diego Library kazoo display; “Fanfare for as Many Kazoos as Possible,” an original composition by Linda Kernohan. Courtesy UC San Diego Library

Walk the Line in Bristol, TN-VA

Exploring the Birthplace of Country Music & Beyond

Navigating travel during a pandemic can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. So if you’re itching to get out on the open road for an overnight or weekend, why not visit Bristol and learn why we are world-renowned as the birthplace of country music? While you’re here, there are some must-sees in the region that you may not want to miss – including good spots around Bristol’s Historic Downtown where photo opportunities are just too good to be missed!

First Things First: Travel Safely!

One thing I learned early on was that state-run Welcome Centers are the cleanest and safest places to make a pit stop on the way to your destination. Most of them have automatic doors, sinks, toilets, soap and paper towel dispensers so you don’t have to touch common surfaces, and cleaning crews work around the clock to keep them sanitary.

Always remember to wear your mask, carry hand sanitizer, and distance from others in public spaces, and all our favorite restaurants in Downtown Bristol offer carry-out!

Where to stay?

A view of the bar at The Sessions Hotel in Historic Downtown Bristol, Virginia-Tennessee depicting bar stools at a bar with a phonograph, guitar, and amplifier.
The music-themed Sessions Hotel bar.
Photo credit The Sessions Hotel.

The Sessions Hotel

Themed with Bristol’s music history in mind, The Sessions Hotel transformed and connected several old buildings Downtown (including the former Bristol Grocery and Jobbers Candy Factory) to create a warm and restful place to lay your head while you explore. The rooms have a modern, industrial feel and come equipped with a Victrola Bluetooth radio. Once restrictions are lifted, you can bet there will be live music in each of the hotel’s spacious venues. There’s also an on-premises spa, a rooftop bar, and the award-winning Southern Craft BBQ restaurant. The hotel is also within walking distance to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and everything Downtown!

What to see?

Birthplace of Country Music Museum
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Historic Downtown Bristol.
Photo credit Birthplace of Country Music.

Birthplace of Country Music Museum

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, tells the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings, explores how evolving sound technology shaped their success, and highlights how this rich musical heritage lives on in today’s music. Through text and artifacts, multiple theater experiences, and interactive displays – along with a variety of educational programs, music performances, and community events – the exciting story of these recording sessions and their far-reaching influence comes alive. Rotating exhibitions from guest curators and other institutions, including the Smithsonian, are featured throughout the year in the Special Exhibits Gallery. The museum also houses a collection of related objects, photographs and paper ephemera, and digital items. The Birthplace of Country Music (BCM) has achieved Healthy Business Certification from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, certifying that both its business office and the Birthplace of Country Music Museum has a disease prevention plan in place that meets guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) for workplace health and pandemic response. Click here to view our health and safety guidelines.

Where to Eat?

Classic cars appropriately on display in front of The Burger Bar, established in 1942.
Photo credit The Burger Bar.

The Burger Bar

There are a number of great restaurants in Historic Downtown Bristol, all within walking distance of the museum, but The Burger Bar is required eating – not just for the amazing food, but for its country music history. Legend has it, The Burger Bar was the place Hank Williams had his last meal. This Bristol staple has a retro diner feel and a few items on the menu named for Hank’s songs, including the Hey Good Looking with savory mushrooms and grilled onions, the Your Cheatin’ Heart with green chiles, and the Move it on Over with BBQ sauce. My personal favorite, however, is the Burger Bar Famous Reuben on marble rye with corned beef so fresh it melts in your mouth! And don’t forget a side of parmesan fries…delish!

A collage of three photos, the first of a young girl posing by the Bristol sign, the second is a group of folks pretending to sing at the Take the Stage statue, and the third photo is of a man's feet straddled over the Tennessee-Virginia marker found in the middle of the road on State Street.
(L to R) Photo taken from selfie spot marked on the sidewalk near the Bristol sign,
a group “jam” at the Take the Stage statue, and walking the line in two states on State Street.
Photo credit Birthplace of Country Music.

Photo Ops
There are a number of selfie spots around Bristol that make for the perfect IG post:

  • The Bristol Sign – We recommend the magic hour around sunset when the lights first come on!
  • State Street’s Tennessee/Virginia markers – Located in the middle of State Street between the 400 and 800 blocks of State Street, visitors like to take pics of their feet “walking the line” between two states! Safety first recommended, but locals are used to seeing visitors pose and will often stop traffic for you!
  • Take the Stage Statue – Located on the edge of Cumberland Square Park across from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, make like an old-time crooner and sing into the microphone between a guitarist and fiddler immortalized in bronze.
  • Country Music Mural – located in the Downtown Center on the 800 block of State Street, artist Tim White’s depiction of the major players behind the legendary 1927 Bristol Sessions just got a facelift and is ready for your close-up!

We highly recommend checking out Discover Bristol’s website for a Downtown walking tour, in addition to instructions for the self-guided Caterpillar Crawl scavenger hunt for kids! Kids can also make a little music of their own at Jerry Goodpasture Plaza.

Believe in Bristol is the best source Downtown Bristol events, attractions, restaurants, shops, and galleries. Be sure and visit their website before you visit!

Photo collage of three photos, the first of the exterior of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center, an interior shot of the Carter Fold with Rita Forrester and Marty Stuart on stage facing a large crowd, and an exterior shot of the Ralph Stanley Museum
(L to R) The Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace, Rita Forrester (owner of The Carter Fold) and Marty Stuart at The Carter Family Fold, and the Ralph Stanley Museum.
Photo credits Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace, Carter Family Fold, Ralph Stanley Museum

Beyond Bristol
To make the most of your music-themed experience, we highly recommend taking time to visit a few other sites along The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail near Bristol:

  • The Carter Family Fold
    Temporarily closed due to the pandemic, The Carter Family Fold is 45 minute drive from Bristol to Hiltons, Virginia and a must-see for music lovers. Janette Carter, one of three children of A. P. and Sara Carter, established the Carter Family Fold to honor the memory of her parents and Maybelle Carter who played a historic role in helping give birth to the age of country music beginning in 1927. The Fold is known for its Saturday night performances where children of all ages dance to old-time, bluegrass, and early country music. There is a small museum on the property that was once a store ran by A. P. Carter, and A. P.’s family cabin was moved there from its remote site for visitation as well. Considered hallowed ground by country music artists and enthusiasts, Johnny Cash performed his final show there in 2003.
  • Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace (formerly Heartwood)
    A 20-minute drive from Historic Downtown Bristol to Abingdon, Virginia, Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace provides a welcome mat for travelers to Southwest Virginia and serves as a visitor center, retail center for local crafts, music venue and community space. You’ll find exhibits that highlight local artisans and sample the sights and sounds of the region through film in the facility’s experiential theater. Musicians can also pluck tunes in the center’s porch stage, and taste locally sourced foods in the cafe. Regular Thursday night performances are also held, visit their website for schedules.
  • Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center
    Located in Clintwood, Virginia (a scenic one-hour and thirty-five minute drive from Bristol), travelers are encouraged to take an interactive musical journey through the career of Dr. Ralph Stanley at the museum named for the legendary performer. The Ralph Stanley Museum continuously preserves and promotes bluegrass music through workshops, seminars, and conventions. For workshop information and event schedules, check their events calendar often for updates. (Please note, this museum is closed until Spring 2021.)

    Want to know more about exploring Bristol and Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee? Visit our travel partner websites:

    Discover Bristol
    Believe in Bristol
    Visit Southwest Virginia
    Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association






Thomas Edison: From “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to Recorded Music

On December 24, 1877, inventor Thomas Edison filed for a patent for his “talking machine” or cylinder phonograph. This technology was transformative, successfully reproducing recorded sound and thus setting the stage for our experience of listening to the music we love whenever and wherever we want to!

To celebrate this important date in sound history, it is worth briefly exploring the story of Edison’s early work in recorded sound. Other inventors had already made inroads with different technologies that facilitated communication and transmitted sound – for instance, Samuel Morse with the telegraph in 1844, and Alexander Graham Bell with the telephone in 1876. However, the recording and playback of sound had not been achieved before Edison’s work, the result of several months of diligent labor on the concept of the phonograph. He marked his success with the recording and playback of his own recitation of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and his remembrance of this occasion can be heard below. Later Edison noted: “I was never so taken aback in my life – I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.”

Two months after filing, the patent for Edison’s phonograph was issued on February 19, 1878. At first, Edison thought that his machine would be primarily useful in the business world as a correspondence and dictation device. Along with that function, however, he envisioned various other uses, including the connection to playing music:

  • Phonographic books for blind people
  • A device for teaching elocution
  • The reproduction of music
  • A “family record” machine to record memories, sayings, last words of dying relatives, etc.
  • Music boxes and toys
  • “Talking” clocks that could keep you on schedule
  • To preserve languages and their pronunciation
  • An educational resource to preserved teachers’ lessons and explanations for later referral
  • To record telephone conversations
Left: A baby doll with porcelain head (bald), metal body with speaker area at top of torso, and articulated wooden limbs. Right: A 19th-century drawing of a man standing in front of a large cabinet Edison phonograph with what look like earphones plugged into the machine.
Left: In 1890, Edison’s company began producing “talking” doll toys that contained small wax cylinder playback machines. Frankly, this is the stuff of nightmares… Right: In late 1889, “coin-in-the-slot” phonographs were introduced in San Francisco, giving people the chance to listen to songs at 5 cents each. The first of these used an Edison phonograph as its base machine. Photograph taken at the National Museum of American History; artist’s rendering of a coin-slot phonograph from radiomuseum.org

The general way these early cylinder phonographs worked was that a person would talk (or sing) into the large end of an acoustic recording horn, which fit into a machine housing a diaphragm and stylus. The sound wave vibrations caused a carriage arm to move across a metal cylinder wrapped in tinfoil (later these became wax cylinders) upon which the stylus inscribed a continuous vertical groove – thus recording the sound being made, which could then later be played back and listened to with delight!

Edison bowed out of the phonograph field for almost 10 years as he concentrated on creating and mass-producing the electric light bulb – creating light out of the darkness in wealthy homes and many cities. But when he returned to the technology of recorded sound, he was continually innovating and producing new models and types of phonographs, and one of his subsidiaries – Columbia Phonograph Company – had also been producing cylinder recordings of popular music of the day. As with most technology, competitors arose and new versions and innovations were developed throughout this time, including the graphophone of Alexander Graham Bell, Chichester Bell, and Charles Sumner Tainter and Emile Berliner’s disc gramophone, and the switch from acoustic horn to electric microphone recording. And with them, and over the following years, came more and more musical recordings by different companies and within a variety of genres – from what is widely considered the first “satisfactory” musical recording (of Italian tenor Enrico Caruso) in 1902 to the later early “hillbilly” tunes of the 1920s that we know and love.

A black-and-white photograph of a large room filled with different musical instruments, including two pianos, a small drum, and what looks to be a small organ, along with several phonograph machines.

Edison’s phonograph experimental laboratory in Orange, New Jersey, in 1892. Image from the Library of Congress

This blog post shares only one small part of Edison’s story – and an even smaller part of the story of recorded sound. If you want a much fuller history of Edison’s work and impact, there is much to be found on the internet – including a great article from the Library of Congress. Interestingly, research has also uncovered several older instances of recorded sound – that of the French inventor Edouard-Leon Scott, whose invention, the phonautograph or phono-autograph, produced a sound recording almost 20 years before Edison’s phonograph, including a snipped of the song “Claire de Lune.” Check out this NPR transcript of an interview with Patrick Feaster, one of the researchers, as he describes the discovery, noting: “It’s the earliest recognizable recording of the human voice, the earliest recording of a vocal musical performance, the oldest recognizable snippet of sound in any recognizable language. So, it’s a lot of firsts.”

Museum Store Artisan Spotlight: Debbie Grim Yates, Susan Prior Fields & John Gunther

A general shot of The Museum Store focused on the front display table -- goods seen here include a large colored metal boot, a folk art piece based on the Bristol Sign, wood and fabric baskets, Farm & Fun Time t-shirts and a Season 1 print, glassware, and jewelry.
The Museum Store in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

Back in November, we began our first in a series of blogs highlighting three talented artisans whose work we have commissioned to sell in The Museum Store at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. These creatives elevate the idea of a souvenir to heirloom status, and this month we continue our series by featuring three more artists whose unique, handmade pieces are true masterpieces.

Photo of a ceramic tray with flower designs and a crossed banjo and guitar with musical themed mug and flower vase.
Debbie Grim Yate’s music-themed pottery.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

Debbie Grim Yates

Debbie Grim Yates began her pottery career with an apprenticeship under Robin and Bet Mangum of Sparta, North Carolina in 1993. Like most potters, Debbie quickly became addicted to the clay and, over time, her pottery work evolved into a full-time pottery business in her home studio in beautiful Konnarock, Virginia near Whitetop Mountain. Her love of the work and the resulting quality of her finished pottery has helped her business to grow each year. Debbie’s shop is a trail site on the Smyth County Artisan Trail, and she is a member of ‘Round the Mountain Artisan Network. In addition to The Museum Store, Debbie also sells her pottery at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace and Holston Mountain Artisans in Abingdon, along with numerous other craft shops in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. She works primarily with stoneware clay, making wheel-thrown and slab-built functional and decorative pottery.

In addition to her pottery, Debbie is also an accomplished musician combining a soft but powerful singing voice with the ability to play the banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. She and husband Tim perform as Acoustic Heritage. Both Debbie and Tim came from musical families, and she hopes to pass on both her pottery trade and her family’s legacy of music-making to her two daughters.

Honeysuckle flowers made from intricate yellow and green beads.
Susan Prior Fields’ floral beadwork.
Photo credit: Susan Prior Fields

Susan Prior Fields

One of The Museum Store’s most prolific and popular artisans is Susan Prior Fields. Susan is self-taught and highly skilled in the craft known as beadwork or “beading” and has utilized that talent to create handcrafted art pieces for more than 30 years. To create her beaded flower and tree sculptures and floral-inspired jewelry, she says that she utilizes “repetition, pattern, precise technique, color, sheen, and translucency, all inspired by nature and thousands of tiny seed beads.” Susan’s flowers are done in the “French method” using wire and beads. The flowers appear fragile but are very robust, strong, and permanent. Her trees are very labor-intensive and most take up to three months to complete. Susan’s jewelry consists of a variety of different tiny beads stitched one bead at a time to create a wearable piece of art.  Each of Susan’s jewelry pieces normally takes one to two full days to create.

Susan has lived in Abingdon, Virginia, for 50 years. She and her husband Charles have two daughters, Suzanna (Richmond, VA) and Gwen (Chattanooga, TN), and one grandson. Suzanna Fields is an award-winning artist whose work is in notable public and private collections. Check her out at www.suzannafields.com. You can also visit Susan Prior Fields on Facebook to see more beautiful creations by the artist.

A wooden ladder-like pieces displaying several different colored scarves on the rungs.
John Gunther’s colorful scarves.
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Earl Neikirk

John Gunther

A native of Flint, Michigan, one time self-described “peace and love hippie” John Gunther now resides on the outskirts of Abingdon, Virginia, with his wife Janet. John was one of the original juried artisans signed to The Museum Store in 2014. His colorful, luxurious, affordable, and hand-woven chenille scarves have proven popular with museum patrons for themselves and as gifts. Each scarf is a colorful work of art with a cozy, silky feel that becomes even softer with age. The Museum Store also carries some of John’s woven aluminum art pieces, which he has sold coast-to-coast.

John received a loom as a gift while still a student at Michigan State University and began to learn and understand the diverse uses and possibilities of woven fabrics mixed with other materials such as woods or metals. He graduated MSU in 1972 and lived in Wyoming for a short time before moving to this region. Early in his weaving career, John focused totally on “functional” weaving, making things like shelving, lighting, floor coverings, and wearable clothing, which he sold at local and regional craft shows. Since the 1990s, John has been more focused on “artistic” weaving with his scarves, landscapes using dyed merino wool, and woven creations using aluminum sheeting as his medium. He continues to find new directions to express his art. Visit his website at GuntherWeavings.com to see more examples of his beautiful work.

Each of these artisans, along with around 50 others, are featured in The Museum Store at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Museum admission is not needed when visiting The Museum Store, and it’s a great destination for holiday shopping. Most artisan items for sale in The Museum Store are not sold online due to inventory limitations. To peruse other items sold in The Museum store, click here.

*Note: There’s perhaps nothing more personal than a gift of the arts, so be sure and stop by the museum – and our wonderful downtown – to support local artisans and small businesses!