Kansas’ Music History
By Derrick Doty, October 2023 at Pioneer Bluffs
Transcript with video times
Note: This is a computer generated transcription and will have a few spelling and other errors.
[0:54] Bluff’s Prairie Talk today, we are pleased to welcome Derek Doty for a presentation on Kansas music history, including a special emphasis on the music of Henry Rogler, the founder of this Pioneer Bluff’s homestead and ranch. Derek will play even some tunes on Henry’s actual fiddle, which is up here on the table. Doesn’t get any more real than that. First, we need to also thank Humanities Kansas, which is an independent nonprofit leading a movement of ideas to empower the people of Kansas to strengthen their communities and our democracy.
Derek is a music historian, I believe a scholar, really a true scholar.
He currently works at the Riley County Historical Museum in Manhattan.
He teaches traditional fiddle and banjo and currently plays in the Tallgrass Express string band, in which I also play. We are a group based in the Flint Hills that specialize in original songs about this region.
Please welcome Kansas music history and scholar and Flint Hills fiddler, Derek Doty.
[2:02] Thank you. Well, it’s good to be here in the barn, even if it is a little chilly outside.
So, what can I tell you in an hour? Boy, not a whole lot.
There’s many facets of Kansas music history. So we’re just going to kind of touch the high places today and give you a little taste of what Kansas has to offer.
I usually fail to talk about myself during these things. I just jump right into it.
So I have put a little reminder up here to remind me to talk about myself.
People ask, well, how did you get started in music? How did you get interested?
Well, this is how I got started right here, I think. In my grandparent’s house they had a piano and my grandpa played guitar and while I don’t remember much about him playing as a kid, because he had arthritis, I do remember him playing a few tunes and what not and I’m not sure that I really learned a lot from him but I found it really interesting that when we found an old cassette tape from probably the early 1980’s of my grandpa playing and singing some. The guitar style sounded an awful lot like the way I play.
[3:19] And I don’t know if I absorbed something from him or not. Yes, I do go by Flint Hills Fiddler.
That was unintentional, but I thought that’s a great way to remember my email address, or to remember my website flinthillsfiddler.wordpress.com If you like what you see here today, you can go to that website and you can find more information about just interesting musicians and things throughout Kansas.
[3:46] I also got started in our barn on our family farm. I grew up hearing stories about my great-grandfather was a fiddler and he played for barn dances in this barn and I had always hoped that one day that’s what I would do.
And I was really planning on holding a barn dance just a couple weeks before it blew down.
And so that was the end of that.
But since then I have been able to play in other people’s barns.
Here, Stony Point, south of Lawrence, and you know, continuing to be a part of that tradition and keeping that alive, which is important to me, and I hope it’s important to you too. That’s another thing I want to get across is why this information is important. Largely I’m talking about informal music traditions, the fiddlers, the banjo players, the house dances, the barn dances, and those are the traditions that tend to not get written down.
They just live in our memory.
[4:45] And in fact, I don’t know how many times and I’m sure somebody here will do it today, they’ll come up to me and they’ll say, my dad used to play for the barn dances at such and such place or whatever.
Everywhere I hear somebody that has a story.
That is the family history that lives in their memory.
They usually don’t write it down but I would encourage you to write these things down, share it with your family members Because if you don’t, it’s going to be lost.
It’s going to be forgotten.
And I can tell you in the past 18 years of researching these kinds of traditions throughout the Flint Hills and Kansas, it’s really hard to find documentation.
And you have to read through hours and hours of books and newspapers and diaries and letters just to get these little snippets that are of interest to everyone.
And so, that’s what I’m going to share with you today. So, if the written information about our music traditions is few, so are the images of early Kansas musicians. There’s not a whole lot that I’ve found.
[5:46] This is one of my favorite images for Kansas music history.
This is down almost to the Oklahoma border in central Kansas at Protection Kansas.
The name of the ranch was Turkey Track Ranch.
These are some of the hands there.
And they’ve got an interesting instrumentation. We’ve got the cello.
The guy in the center with the dark long coat is playing harmonica.
And we’ve got a guitar.
And of course there’s all kinds of other cool stuff in this picture, like the sod house, the sharps rifle, the jug with a pistol sticking in it, all kinds of interesting things.
I’d like to know the story behind what’s going on.
[6:26] But this is an interesting combination of instruments. The cello is something we may not think about a lot, but it was the bass instrument back in the day.
In fact, a lot of people called it the bass, rather than a cello.
If you were part of the whole family in southwestern Butler County, you might have pronounced it cello instead.
But one interesting thing about this instrument, you may not be able to see it here, but if you zoom in on this, you’ll see there’s only three strings on this cello.
And that’s something we see often with cellos in these old photographs.
They’re always missing a string, and it’s never the same one.
It’s always a different string.
And this has puzzled people for a long time. What’s the reason for this?
Is it because of the key they play in?
I think the most logical explanation is that when you broke a cello string, you couldn’t just go to the store and get it. You had to order it, you had to wait for it, and they were expensive.
And so you probably just did without until you could replace it.
[7:28] Another one of my favorite images is the Anderson Sod House out in Logan County.
This was supposed to be taken sometime between 1885-1890. Again, we’ve got the cello.
We’ve got the fiddler on the roof.
[7:43] We’ve got a rifle and an accordion. And we can only presume that they are rendering a rendition of the 1812 Overture.
Way out west in Kansas, almost to the Colorado border. This is thought to have been taken in maybe Sheridan County or another one of those counties out there that I don’t remember because, you know, I only go out that way once in a coon’s age.
But these are supposed to be Swedish immigrants out west, and I really like their instrumentation.
We’ve got three guitars, we’ve got a mandolin, two fiddlers, the little boy in the center has got a harmonica, and then we’ve got this oddball on the end with a piccolo.
That’s something we don’t see often, but they must have made it work.
[8:36] One thing that’s interesting about this photo is the number of guitars.
Now, if you go to a jam session about anywhere in Kansas today, you will always have guitars outnumbering the fiddles, the banjos, mandolins, everything else.
There’s always lots of guitar players.
Back in the day, that wasn’t always the case, but because we have these old-style parlor guitars here, probably still had gut strings on them at that time, they’re not a very loud instrument.
They don’t have a lot of volume like our modern guitars.
So you’d often have more of them to accompany you for a dance, say in a barn like this, so that that accompaniment and rhythm could be heard over the fiddles which are quite loud.
[9:22] We’re going to be stuck on fiddles for a while, but I promise we’ll get beyond that.
The first fiddler that I’m aware of to come to Kansas, although I’ve recently come across some information that might refute that, is James Limerick.
He came to Kansas in the spring of 1855. He was from Virginia.
He was born of Irish descent parents.
And he’d lived in several states on his way to Kansas, but he was moving into Kansas that spring and he met another family in Missouri, the Darnell family, and they camped together and they became really good friends and actually ended up settling together on Rock Creek in Pottawatomie County.
[10:10] But the story from the Darnell family about James Limerick’s violin, which we see here, the first time they saw it and heard him play it was in Missouri as they were camped one night around the campfire he pulled it out and he played and they said he could he could dance and play at the same time and they also said that his style of fiddling was Irish now we don’t really know what that means the Irish have lots of different styles of music that they play I often think of jigs or six eight time but the Irish played reels they played horn pipes they played all kinds of things but I’m going to play for you a tune that I think you might recognize and it just so happens to be a tune that we know Henry Rogler once played.
[12:10] And does anybody have a name for that one? Know the name of that?
The Irish Washerwoman, yes. A pretty standard in the repertoire of fiddlers.
Actually, I find that tune, we always think of it as being Irish, maybe because of the title, but we find it in the Scottish tunebooks.
But we also find that the Irish and the Scots shared a lot of similar tunes.
There was a fiddler in, going back to the whole family, which I mentioned earlier, They were a very musical family and very important in the documented parts of our informal traditions.
Tad Holes played the fiddle at barn dances, house dances, and he played the Irish washerwoman, but he always referred to it as the Hibernian Laundry Lady.
So, in addition to the, what I would call, casual or amateur fiddles that we had all through the state of of Kansas, playing for dances, playing for their own amusement.
We also had professional or semi-professional fiddlers, such as these radio fiddlers of the 1920s and 30s here in Kansas, which unfortunately we don’t know a lot about and we don’t have a lot of their music because in those early days of radio, they were not recording anything.
It was all live broadcast.
[13:32] Uncle Bob Larkin, or John Robert Larkin, as his real name is, He was from Arkansas and he was supposed to be a champion fiddler, won all kinds of contests.
In fact, one man, he says, well, the only reason he won that contest is because I wasn’t there to beat him.
So Bob Larkin drove to his location and beat him anyway.
[13:56] But John Robert Larkin is one of the early Kansas fiddlers that you can look up on YouTube and hear his recordings today.
There’s a few of them on there.
He was the fiddler for KFKB Radio at Milford right around 1930.
And I’m not sure how long he was there, but he was one of the two fiddlers.
Usually I’ve noticed there’s always about two fiddlers at each radio station.
And they’re always uncle. I don’t know why. You’ll find Uncle Ezra Hawkins up here.
He was the fiddler for WIBW Radio.
[14:33] Sam Long is the earliest known Kansas fiddler to be recorded commercially.
He was born in Scranton, Kansas in 1876. He died in Wichita.
But in between, he lived all over the place. I think he spent some time in California, maybe doing some gold digging. I’m not not entirely sure on that.
But in 1926, while he was living in Oklahoma, he attended the Joplin fiddle contest in Missouri.
And he won.
And part of the award or prize for winning that contest was some recording time.
So he went to a studio and recorded four or six sides of records.
He was also considered the first Ozark musician to be recorded.
And he’s the first one to record Echoes of the Ozark, which is a pretty classic fiddle tune that a lot of people in the Ozark and Missouri region know. He also recorded another tune that we still play today. Bob Larkin recorded it as higher up the monkey climbs, but uh…
Sam recorded it as Seneca Square Dance.
[16:54] You can also find recordings of Sam Long today, but you may not find them under Sam Long.
You may find them under Fiddling Dave Neal.
Another mystery of the early recordings is a lot of people used pseudonyms, and I think it had something to do with copyrights between recording companies, but I haven’t quite pinned that down yet. Okay, moving to the, I don’t know if you can see that little tag on the front of that Model A there. Can any of you read what that says? It says Matt Field Green.
[17:37] This here is Frank Ohm. Anybody know the Ohm family? I think they’ve been away from these parts for a long time. But Frank Ohm, who we see here, he was born here at Bazaar.
And not only was he a guitarist, as we can tell in the photo, he played fiddle, he played accordion, he played the banjo, I think he played the tuba maybe. He, played a lot of things. He was pretty musical. But as a young man growing up at Bazaar, his father had a fiddle that he played and he would strap that to the horn of his saddle and ride off across the countryside to the one-room school houses to play for dances for the night. And sometimes he might not get paid much at all and sometimes he might get paid three dollars. It just kind of depended.
But we’re in we’re in the the Chase County region now and Chase County has a.
[18:32] Pretty rich musical history. A lot of a lot of fiddlers that I found, a lot of musicians. Henry Rogler is one of those.
[18:44] And we have the special today of getting to hear his instrument.
As I understand, his granddaughter, I think it was, grand or great-grand, recently donated his fiddle back to Pioneer Bluffs, so it’ll be on display in the house.
I had the privilege to work on the instrument last year to get it set up so that it’s playable.
So let’s talk a little bit about Henry Rogler before we play his fiddle.
So, Henry pretty much made Pioneer Bluffs, what you see and recognize today.
But when he was a teenager, he took an interest in music and wanted to play the fiddle.
So he started selling subscriptions to the Youth’s Companion magazine, which was a popular kids’ magazine at the time, and I think it later became, I want to say, like American Boy or something like that, took it over.
[19:37] But part of selling these subscriptions in the magazine, he would earn points, and then he could send in a little money and they would send him a fiddle and so that’s how he got his first fiddle and started learning to play by ear. And the family said that he just scratched away on it at night and before long he had learned a whole bunch of hoedowns and was playing at dances around this part of the county. Later on as Henry grows and goes into college at K State or the, Kansas State Agricultural College as it was at that time, we find out that he joined the school orchestra.
So I suspect that he probably learned to read music at some point, even though he maybe started out playing by ear.
So he played his violin in the school orchestra at K State. About 1912 or so, he starts.
He’s raising a family. The family is getting bigger.
He’s got lots of responsibilities. So he doesn’t travel to these dances and do the late nights, because that was difficult with all the kids.
[20:39] So he kind of laid off on playing for dances. But the fiddle was always an important part of his life.
He would get together and play with folks or get it out to play for visitors.
Another fiddler connected with Pioneer Bluffs is Joe King, who is the second from left here in the Bib overalls. Joe King came to Matfield Green in 1912.
He was originally from Arkansas. And he played the fiddle. And we know that Henry and him played together.
[21:10] And there was this tune that Joe King was known to play. And nobody knew the name of it.
They always just called it Joe King’s schottische, because he was the one that played it.
But I learned the tune from June Talkington, who was also a fiddler from Mattfield Green, or south of here.
And he called it Joe King’s schottische. So that’s the way we learned it.
So I would like to play for you Joe King’s schottischeon Henry Rogler’s fiddle.
[22:53] Thank you. Now, several years ago, I learned what the name of that tune is after putting it out there on social media for all the music nerds to help me out.
And somebody from way out east says, oh, that’s the Captain with his Whiskers, which is an old tune that was popular during the Civil War, but it actually predates the Civil War.
It goes back to at least the 1820s.
And it was just a song, The Captain With His Whiskers, it’s about a young girl who’s in her house, she’s watching the soldiers in the band march through the town and she’s peeping through the curtains and she sees the captain with his whiskers and he takes a sly glance at her and someday I might learn to sing it, but for now it works out great as a dance tune.
So I think it’s interesting that this old song became a dance tune here in Chase County and possibly has been played here for the past 80 years or so.
June Talkington learned this from Joe King and I learned it from June Talkington.
There’s an interesting story about Joe King’s fiddle. I’m always interested in what happened to the instruments? Where are the instruments today? Well, we’ve got Henry’s fiddle. We know where it is. What happened to Joe King’s fiddle? Well, it.
[24:10] Just so happens that my sister-in-law is Joe King’s great-granddaughter and I had this vague memory and I asked her I says what happened to his fiddle and she said oh well his daughter was buried with it so it now is in the Matt Field Green Cemetery with Joe King, not with him, but with Joe King.
[24:37] There’s at least three fiddlers in the Mattfield Green Cemetery.
I think there might be more fiddlers per capita in Mattfield Green Cemetery than any other cemetery in the county.
And a fiddle. So that’s what happened to Joe King’s fiddle.
I’m glad that’s not what happened to Henry’s fiddle. So I might talk just a little bit briefly about Henry’s fiddle.
I don’t believe this is the original fiddle that he got as a kid through the mail order.
I think this is something he got later and in fact there’s family documentation that kind of suggests that, that he traded up for a better instrument.
Looking through his fiddle case at all the contents that were in there, I found a little tiny envelope that said Henry on it and there was a card inside and it said, from Maude, I think is what it said.
[25:26] So I suspect that Maude must have gifted him this fiddle somehow.
I don’t know how she came about it, whether she saved up for it, found it from somebody, but I suspect that Maude is the one who gave him this fiddle.
And it is interesting, and I’ve had a lot of fiddles through my hand in the past years, and I’ve never seen one that’s antiqued like this one.
You’ll see there’s lots of little lines that are intentionally put in there to make it look old-fashioned, and they’ve done this for hundreds of years with violins to make them look older than they really are. But somebody went to a lot of work to just put in these little antique marks all around the instrument, and I’ve not seen that anywhere else before. But it turns out, this is a pretty good instrument. It’s got a good sound. I, think Henry must have been proud of it. One other tune I want to play for you, since I’ve I’ve got Henry’s fiddle.
I also heard that he played, oh, what is it called?
There’s several names for it. Life in Findland Woods is what I usually know it as.
Some of you might recognize it as Strawberry Hill or Blueberry Hill, some hill.
That’s the other thing with traditional music. There’s lots of different names and you’re never sure which is which.
[27:45] So I think I’ll put Henry’s fiddle over on the table here with the other things for you to have a look at afterwards.
Oh, here’s a picture of June Talkington that I threw in last minute, playing at the Emma Chase Cafe.
He was usually there every Friday night playing music, and he’d usually hide in the back so so that he couldn’t be seen or heard, but we knew he was there.
And then he’d tell us, get out there and play that, play that Shottish, play that Shottish I’ve taught you. So we’d go play that.
Well, moving on from the fiddle, let’s talk about the first brass band in Kansas. This is not the first brass band in Kansas.
It’s not even the first brass band in Burdick, Kansas, but it’s a cool picture and I like to use it.
[28:44] The first band to show up in Kansas was in the spring of 1854 in Lawrence.
And Joseph Savage, seen here, was one of those band members.
He and his brother Forrest were from Hartford, Vermont, and they had a couple of cousins that also played in the City Brass Band there.
And they had decided to answer this call to come to Kansas and help establish it as a free state.
And so Joseph showed up on the train platform in Boston one morning with his baritone horn in tow.
And to his surprise, his brother shows up.
And to their surprise, their cousins show up. All four of them had decided to go, and they apparently hadn’t communicated this with one another.
[29:33] So while they’re there on the train platform, Somebody’s handing out these little papers with verses written on it that John Greenleaf Whittier had just written supposedly for this very occasion.
And Marion Dix Sullivan, who was a popular American composer at the time, had immediately put this verse of Whittier’s to music.
Although I don’t think it ever caught on because it’s not very good.
And nobody remembers singing it.
But everybody today knows it to the tune of Auld Lang Syne.
And so that’s what these brass musicians did. They pulled out their horns and they started playing Auld Lang Syne.
And everybody sang, we crossed the prairies as of old the pilgrims crossed the sea to make the west as they the east the homestead of the free.
And so this became their anthem as they traveled by steamboat and rail all the way to Kansas.
And people would stop at the stations to hear the brass band play this and hear the people sing this.
Except for when they got to Missouri.
Missouri didn’t appreciate that So they had to stick with with things that were a little less charged like often the stilly night and and things like that, But once they got into Kansas soil again They started playing this and that I was just kind of their anthem of the the Free State movement.
[31:01] One story I usually share about Joe Savage he was also in Lawrence at the time of Quantrill’s raid and, And it is said that he was saved because of his bad eyesight, he was in the back of his home that morning when a ruffian had knocked on his door and, He was washing his eyes And by the time he got his eyes washed and answered the door the guy was already out the gate and going away, If it hadn’t been for that he probably would have been killed.
[31:31] But Joe and his wife and a hired hand that they had loaded up the wagon that morning and headed for his farm that was a couple miles out of town, hoping they would find safety there. And one of the things he loaded into the wagon was his baritone horn. And on the way to the farm, they run into a group of ruffians who are in the process of murdering somebody. And so Joe jumps the fence and hides in the cornfield, and his wife goes on. They stop her. They search the wagon. They see this horn, and they think it has something to do with some kind of military importance, which, they weren’t completely mistaken because the band was using it to drill the militia in Lawrence and to help boost morale and for.
[32:18] Public entertainment. And so they took his horn and they beat it double over the wagon wheel and threw it out in the cornfield. Well, you know what happens with the rest of Quantrill’s story, so we’ll move on to afterwards. Joe retrieves his horn from the cornfield and sends it back to the manufacturer back east and they refurbish it, repair it, and send it back to him.
And the next year, October of 1864, finds Joe with his refurbished horn at Westport as the militia are trying to fight off Sterling Price.
And he said that that horn was very important to him, very important piece of his life and he wouldn’t have parted with it for anything.
And again, I wonder what happened to that horn.
I have not been able to locate it.
[33:04] That doesn’t seem to be in any museum anywhere.
[33:11] Well, we touched on the Civil War. Sometimes I talk about how the Civil War affect our music traditions in Kansas, and there’s a number of ways, but the way that I want to share with you today is through fife and drum.
Following the war, 1866, I think it was December of that year, Kansas established their GAR, Grand Army of the Republic Organization.
But it wasn’t really until the 1880s that it really takes off, and you see lots of towns all over Kansas with GAR units.
[33:45] And part of those organizations was they had fife and drum with them, if they were fortunate enough to have musicians.
And those musicians would often take part in social events, whether Decoration Day or Independence Day, and play for those things.
This is an image taken in 1918 in Minneapolis, Kansas, and this is the GAR there with their fife and drum at the lead with the flag, leading World War I draftees down the street to see them off.
So the fife and drum was an important part of our music traditions, probably from the early 1880s on until most of these old veterans died off.
And today, I am not aware of any current drum and fife choirs that exist in Kansas.
I do know a handful of drummers and a handful of fifers, but I’m not sure that anybody is really actively representing the drum and fife choir in Kansas at this time.
[34:51] It’s interesting. I would lump the fife and drum in with formal music, because it’s martial music. It is regulated.
There are certain ways things have to be done. There’s music specifically for it.
And if you look at the music, they say you are to play the music exactly as written.
Do not deviate from this, because it will not sound good if you don’t.
And you’re playing with other people. But in spite of it being formal, there’s still a lot of things we don’t know about it.
And just like with the fiddlers and the banjo players not getting documented, it seems to me that the field musicians also were ignored.
Even though they were an integral part of every army unit. We know they were there. We know they accompanied all these army escorts on the Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail, as early as the 1820s, but we never read anything about them.
[35:42] One story that we do have occurred in 1866 late in the summer.
It was on the Santa Fe Trail at the Arkansas River Crossing.
And this story comes from Lydia Lane, who was an officer’s wife.
She wrote a book about her experiences prior to the Civil War, during the Civil War, and afterwards.
They had left Leavenworth. They were ordered to go to Fort Union, New Mexico, where they had been before the war.
And they had reached the Arkansas River crossing when they had to stop and camp for several days because the water was too high and it was dangerous to cross.
So they waited there until the water went down.
Then they strung a rope across the river, got all the carriages and the baggage over safely, and they were just about finished with the crossing when a German corporal decided to dive in the river and swim across.
And he didn’t make it. He drowned. Lydia’s husband, William, pulled him from the river.
They tried their best to resuscitate him, but to no avail.
And so his body was put in a wagon and carried with them until they could make camp that evening, and do a proper military burial.
And Lydia describes that funeral.
She said it was very moving. It was the most moving thing she could recall.
It was dark by the time the grave was dug and all the plans had been made, and they marched by torchlight.
And she said it was very silent. You couldn’t hear anything except the tread of men’s feet through the grass and the sound of the fife and drum playing the dead march.
[37:12] Now, if we look at period sources, there’s at least half a dozen, maybe a dozen different marches, funeral marches, dead marches that are prescribed in the military books.
So we don’t know exactly which one was played. There may have been several played, but I would like to share with you today one that appears as dead march.
In the 1862 army book.
But it’s important to understand that the melody is an old Scottish traditional melody called the parting glass. Is anybody here familiar with the parting glass?
Some people are. It’s very popular in Scotland and Ireland today.
I’m sure everybody there knows it and they continue to sing it.
But this would have been a well-known piece during this time.
And probably the lyrics were known.
So, the parting glass was traditionally sang at the close of any social gathering as you were getting ready to leave for the night.
But also, the parting glass itself, or the stirrup cup, was the final drink offered to a writer before they went home for the night, to fortify them on their journey home.
So, I think there’s lots of meaning in this traditional Scottish song being used as a funeral march, because the lyrics could mean, you know, we’re parting for the night, hope to see you later.
Or it could mean we’re partying for a more permanent time. And I think that’s why they chose this as the melody for a funeral march.
[39:20] Oh, this is my departing time, for here no longer mon I stay.
There’s not a friend or foe of mine, but wishes that I were away.
[39:47] What I have done for lack of wit, I never, never can recall.
I hope you’re all my friends as yet.
Good night and joy be with you all. And Lydia said that they marched back to camp that evening to the merriest heirs of the fife and the drum. Okay moving on here we’re approaching critical mass.
We’re going to talk about the banjo for a bit because the banjo was an important part of our Flint Hills and Kansas music traditions and it’s one that we probably probably know even less about than the fiddle. But we know it was here very early on.
And I like to use this image for our banjo because number one, there are not many images, of banjo in early Kansas.
Number two, this image also helps to represent a largely underrepresented group of musicians in Kansas.
It’s important to know that African American musicians were everywhere throughout this state.
About every little town you can think of, even though today there may not be the population there, there was some kind of black population all throughout the state of Kansas.
And they were here playing their music and often those traditions crossed over.
So it’s important to understand that.
[41:15] One of the other few images of banjo, this I recently found earlier this year.
This is Uncle Dick Tace in Waubonsee County.
And we also see the guitar player there. This is obviously blurry.
It’s an inset of a larger picture of the Lederkrans Society near Alma.
[41:35] And if we look at the big picture, there’s also a flutist in there, floutist.
And if you look really carefully and blow the image up, it looks like there’s a guy with a fiddle case as well.
So we know music was an important part of the German immigrants in Waubonsie County as well.
There’s a lot that could be said about the banjo.
We could do an entire program on banjo alone, but I’m gonna spare you that.
I’m gonna give you the 101, everything you need to know.
So the banjo has African roots. It’s an instrument that is derived from an African instrument, the akontine, which is still played in Gambia and Senegal today.
And it is a gourd instrument with the top cut off and a skin stretched over it, kind of like a broomstick, just a round pole.
They called it a mast that the strings would be attached to.
And unlike our banjos today, where all the strings are at the peghead, you would have one string attached up here, one string attached here, maybe a string down here.
And they would play by striking the instrument.
[42:47] Well, as it moved with the slave trade to the western part of the world, we see that the instrument evolves and it becomes the banza in Jamaica, the Caribbean, the colonial coastal regions, still has the gourd body, but now it has a flat board neck on it, and all the strings are now tuned up here.
This instrument that I’ve got is an example of the first commercially available banjo in America.
William Esperance Boucher was a drum maker in Baltimore, and he began making these about 1845.
And I guess it just makes sense if you’re making drum shells, you can cut those up and get several banjo pots out of them.
So the banjo at that period was played differently than we play today.
It was played in what we call stroke style, using an index finger and a thumb to strike and pluck those strings.
[44:30] Thank you. But that was not the only style of banjo that they were playing at that time.
Many of the people who were taking up the instrument were guitarists.
So they were applying the method they were familiar with to the banjo, which we would call today classical style guitar or finger style guitar.
They called it Spanish guitar style for the banjo.
[45:24] And then moving up through the century, the banjo changes. It gets a little more sophisticated.
This is an example from the 1880s. And at that time, they still would have been fretless like this one was.
They would have just had ivory finger markers flush with the fretboard here.
Somebody has put frets on this one at some point. But a lot of music was written for the banjo, starting in the late 1870s on through the turn of the century up to about 1930.
Trying to make it this parlor instrument, a lot of ladies were learning to play it.
Trying to make it a respectable instrument, get it away from that association with the plantations and the slaves playing it.
[48:00] Thank you. One person I do want to share with you is John Henning.
He lived at Emporia through most of the 1880s, and he’s kind of a forgotten figure in the banjo world. Not a lot of people know about him.
But I’ve really been working hard to research him and bring some of his music back.
He was a pretty prolific composer for banjo.
He and his wife both performed. They traveled and they played, they taught, not only banjo, but mandolin and guitar.
But through most of the 1880s, they lived at Emporia. During that time there, he entered a piece into a contest, a national contest, and it won second place.
It was the Emporia March.
I’m not gonna play that for you today, but I did bring another piece of his that I recently acquired called Psyche Waltz.
And I wanna just give you an example of John Henning.
I usually refrain from trying new stuff out because I really wanna have it down.
So that’s why I got the music here.
So hopefully, hopefully I can do it some justice.
[51:19] Thank you. So anyway, a little bit more about John Henning.
About 1890, he moves up to Kansas City.
He’s still composing, publishing music. He develops his own banjos about this time and starts producing his own line of banjos.
What’s interesting about them, he puts in steel-reinforced necks into them.
He has a little bit different design on the brackets for tightening.
And they don’t hook over the top of the tension hoop, where he claims that, oh, that wears your cuff out playing.
They hook into the side, so they’re out of the way.
The other thing is he moves the fifth string tuner. Instead of being in the side of the neck, like we’re used to seeing, he puts it on the tailpiece, so it’s down out of the way, so the hand can freely move up and down the neck.
It’s not confirmed yet, but I’m working on purchasing one of these banjos.
I tracked down a guy in Rochester that has one.
And it’s in all original condition. These are very hard to find.
There’s not many of them out there. And any of them I’ve seen, somebody has always stuck a fifth string tuner on the neck. So I’m looking forward to being able to one day play Henning’s music on one of his banjos.
[52:39] Okay, we’re approaching the end here, but I’ve got a couple more guys I hope I can squeeze in.
Byron Harlan was born in Paris, Kansas, and I know y’all know where that is.
He’s got an interesting story. He got his start as an opera singer in Chicago in the 1880s.
That’s how he made his mark. He did very well at it, was very popular.
But towards the end of the 1890s, he gets into recording with Edison Records.
I think his first recording was in 1899.
He recorded, Please, Mr. Conductor, Don’t Pull Me From the Train.
[53:16] And he teamed up with Arthur Collins, and the two of them recorded extensively, doing a lot of ballads and sentimental pieces.
Harlan was the first one to record, Hello, Mother, Give Me Central, or Hello, Heaven, Give Me Central, for my mothers there.
But Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan did a lot of comedic stuff as well.
Some things which may not be appropriate today, and a lot of just humor, dialogue, jokes, gags, sound effects on their recordings.
But one of the things that Harlan recorded that I’d like to share with you, he was the first one to record something that was known as the Hound Dog Song here in Kansas.
It’s also known as, You Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dog Around.
It was very popular. In fact, it was one of the suggestions to play at the Topeka Fiddle Contest in 1912.
The person who could play the best hound dog song would get a prize.
So Harlan, of course, he sang with an orchestra. You can look this stuff up on YouTube today and you can hear a lot of these recordings.
But I’m going to do mine with the banjo. And this is one you can sing along with if you like. The chorus repeats.
It’s easy to remember, and it’ll stick in your head, too.
[57:32] How are we doing on time? We’re out of time. Okay.
Well, that’s it. That’s all I got for you. There’s so much more to share.
Again, if you want to learn a little bit more about what Kansas has to offer music-wise, visit flinthillsfiddler.wordpress.com and you’ll find a little bit there.
And thank you for having me today.
Oh, and you can also take a look at some of the things that I brought today, and I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have.