This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Kids with Talent

10 January 2020

Sometimes the sequins give it away.
Costumes with glitter,
fringed sleeves, and short skirts
are not the clothes regular kids wear.
This is the wardrobe of professional entertainers.

Shoes are the best clue.
Normal boys in 1900
were shod in sturdy, durable boots
for muddy streets.
Entertainers wore shiny buckled slippers
to glide around the footlights of a theater stage.

And well groomed hair is another clue.
The fashion of the theater
demanded that a child star's
coiffure should be perfect,
gleaming of scented oil,
and every curl in place.
An ordinary youth might need to pass
their mother's standards
only on the weekend.
But for a young entertainer to look the part,
every day called for their Sunday best.

The costumes of these seven children
reveal them as professional entertainers.
Their multiple instruments are evidence of their talent,
but it is the confidence in their eyes that shows us
they are not ordinary kids.
They are artistes of the musical theater.

* * *

The first musical trio of two sisters and older brother
are clearly dressed in theatrical garb designed to catch the lights.
The two girls hold cornets and centered between them
are a violin, clarinet, soprano saxophone and trombone.
I would judge their ages at
15 for the boy
and 14 and 11 for the girls.
Their photo is an unmarked cabinet card,
probably sold as a souvenir of their vaudeville performance.
The only clue is a place name, Stanley, N.D., written on the back.
In 1910, which is my rough guess as to when this photo was taken,
Stanley was a very small town in northwest
North Dakota
with a population then of 518.
However it was on the rail line between Chicago and Seattle.

* * *

The next two boys, are on a German postcard captioned:
Bruno    Georgi
Die zwei kleinsten Musik-Virtuosen und Duettisten
der Gegenwart. 9 Jahre alt Ohne Konkurrenz – Einzig
dastehend – Violine; Piston un Fanfarentrompete.
 The two smallest music virtuosos and duetists
of the present day. 9 years old without competition - only
standing - violin; Piston and fanfare trumpet.

Their surname is not noted,
but presumably Bruno and Georgi are twin brothers.
The piston cornets were not typical for German bands
but were more often used by music hall soloists. 

The postmark was stamped on 15 September 1914,
just a few weeks into the start of the Great War,
from Neumünster in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany.

* * *

The last two young ladies
with shiny blonde hair are definitely sisters.
They are pictured on a postcard with the caption:
The Misses Gertie and Flossie Edgcombe.
 The World's Youngest Cornet and Violin Duettists.

My guess for their age is 12 and 10.
Gertie's string instrument may be a viola
as it is larger than Flossie's violin.

The postcard was never mailed
but the divided back has a message on the left,

For INLAND postage only this space
may be used for communication.

This dates the card to sometime between 1902,
when the British Post Office first allowed
messages on the back, and 1906,
when messages on the back
were permitted for postcards sent beyond the UK.

All of these children were instrumental performers
on the music hall and vaudeville theater circuits
in the first decade of the 20th century.
It was a time when theaters, restaurants,
cafes, and even churches
regularly booked family friendly entertainment,
so it was not hard for parents of talented children like these
to find venues to get their kids into show business.
It's likely that most of these young stars learned music
from one or both of their parents, as musicians,
like shoemakers and cabinetmakers,could be a family trade.

Beyond the footlights,
the work must have been very hard for the parents.
Negotiating with theater agents; keeping accounts;
remembering train schedules; booking hotels;
repairing torn shirts; finding lost music;
polishing shoes; learning new routines;
and above all,
managing and protecting your child
who has been assigned a role
usually expected of an adult pursuing a career. 

 What music did they play?
How long was their set on stage?
When did they learn new material?
Where did they find time to be regular kids?
The answers to these questions and many others
may be impossible to know.
But at least we have photos to spark our imagination.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where the kids are all right.


Barbara Rogers said...

Great post cards of talented children, all dressed up and ready to perform. Good questions, and I might add, how did they get an education?

Wendy said...

I would never think Bruno and Georgi were twins.
Yes, the questions about how parents of little stars kept life together are ones I think of whenever you write about young musicians on the road. In addition to promoting their professional lives, just the day-to-day of polishing shoes and keeping them fed had to take a toll on many families.

Avid Reader said...

Lots of talent plus some romantic or dramatic hair styles.

La Nightingail said...

Interesting that Bruno & Georgi, who are twins, have different hair styles; and Gertie and Flossie - only sisters - have identical hair styles. The two girls look older than 10 and 12 to me, but their more mature look may be due to their stage confidence.

Molly of Molly's Canopy said...

These are all very handsome child entertainers. I'd say in addition to their clothes and hair, their stance and direct gaze also mark them as young people used to the attention of audiences and, in this case, cameras. Great selection for this week!

Anne Young said...

I thought I would look on the UK census for Gertie and Flossie. Found them in 1911. Gertrude was then 18 ( born about 1893),Florence 14 ( born about 1897). They had 2 younger siblings. Their father Henry was a music teacher. The girls occupations were given as at home and school. They were living in Plymouth.

I liked your analysis of the costumes, shoes, hair and multiple instruments.

Mike Brubaker said...

Thank you, Anne. It's nice to get a confirmation on their father's musical occupation. I suspect in this era a music teacher's talented children were the best advertisement for more students. I didn't have much time for research so I only made a limited newspaper search and was unable to find any reports on Gertie and Flossie. They probably had a very brief career as a musical duo.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP