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 }

The Kempsmith Mfg Co. Band

29 July 2011

Once upon a time, it seems every village, town, and city in America had a band. And often more than just one band. There were military bands, municipal bands, fraternal lodge bands, church bands, school bands, ladies bands, orphanage bands, and bands like this one - the factory band. Lined up in neat order on a workshop bench is the Kempsmith Band, the company band for the Kempsmith Mfg. Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Very similar to the brass band tradition in Britain, many industrial companies in the 19th and early 20th century started musical groups to foster employee teamwork and company pride. Some were associated with unions but most were used for the local promotion of the company name.

This 8"x10" format photo is undated and unmarked but the unique name on the bass drum was enough to narrow the search. There is no town with this name in the U.S., but in Milwaukee there is a manufacturer of industrial machinery named Kempsmith, established in 1888 by Frank Kempsmith. Milwaukee has long been a center for high skills industry, especially with automotive, machine tool, and engine manufacturers, and these men are likely trained as metalworking machinists.

Kempsmith Machine Co. advert
1942 Milwaukee city directory

The company specialized in metal tooling machinery used by various industries, like the milling machine pictured here from a 1922 ad. Basically making very large and heavy things that could hurt you if you didn't follow the directions. In 1916 they had a payroll of 450 workers. The current company makes tool and die machinery for the paper product industry.

The front row of  the Kempsmith band shows a clear difference between a horn (seated 3rd L) and  two mellophones next to it. There are also several upright low brass, with two different sized tubas, a euphonium, and an alto horn. They don't seem to have a conductor, so perhaps they were led by the first trumpet. The style of uniforms and haircuts suggest 1920's, perhaps as late as 1935, but certainly some years before WW II. 

Bismark ND Daily Tribune
April 1907


I could not find an actual reference citation for this band, but I did find an article from 1907 in the business section of the Bismark North Dakota Tribune

With a title Doubling in Brass, it describes how many businesses were recruiting men with extra musical skills to augment their company bands.
"Here is an advertisement from a place up the state calling for machinists, lathe, bench, and planer hands, who must be musicians and play cornet, trombone or B bass.." it says.

_ _ _



Another Milwaukee machine manufacturer also maintained a company band, and their musicians played every Tuesday for the other employees. In the days before radio, when music was handcrafted and consumed slowly in moderation, a company band must have been a real source of worker pride. All the company activities like picnic socials, baseball games, holiday parades, all needed music and what better way to give back to the staff and community than to have a company band.
What kind of music did they play? And when did the powerful forces of canned recorded music force the demise of factory bands like this?

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A Horn Player from New England

23 July 2011

Collectors like myself are on a never ending treasure hunt. Sometimes it's a pursuit for the missing puzzle piece, or just a routine search for something new. But the best fun comes from the unexpected catch. Like this prize found at a small antique shop in Maine that specialized in old tools. Tucked away in an old shoebox miscellany of postcards and photos, was this small photo of a single bandsman, a horn player like myself. Not a postcard, but printed on slightly larger paper, it has the look of a snapshot. Regrettably unmarked, it's yet another mystery photo, but to judge by the dealer's inventory, it seems likely this gentleman poses outside his house somewhere in New England.

Though the horn has always been a major part of orchestral music, it was never a common band instrument in 19th and early 20th century America.The three rotary valves for the left hand distinguish the horn from the mellophone, which was the more popular instrument at the time, with its three piston valves for the right hand. They are also in different keys, the horn in F being much longer at about 12 feet from mouthpiece to bell. There is also a longer conical taper to the horn that requires more skill to manufacture. And the horn mouthpiece is different from the other brass instruments being conical instead of cup shaped.

This particular hornist has a single horn similar to the one Leona Biehl is holding in her family band. I have seen a similar horn made by Wunderlich in Chicago, but it might also be  a German or Italian import. The wrap of the plumbing and the way the keys are on top of the valves makes it an unusual design.  Horn players can get very geeky about this stuff.

This New England horn player sports a splendid embroidered uniform, one that I would think quite expensive. If it was brand new, that would be a good reason for a photograph. I only wish there was a monogrammed cap or collar badge to give some clue for the location of his town band. If you look closely he is wearing pince-nez spectacles, and bears a strong resemblance to President Theodore Roosevelt, so I think the photo dates from around 1905-1910.

President Theodore Roosevelt, 1904

But there is something very odd about his chin. My concern for his health led me to send his photo to friend of mine who is both an orthopedic surgeon and horn player.  His reply: The fellow with the horn has a swelling just below his mandible which appears to be centered. He is quite thin but does not look ill. The swelling is a little high for goiter, although that is not out of the question. Infection, chronic lymph nodes, thyroglossal duct cyst, the list is long.
He sent the photo on to an ENT specialist in this sort of thing and got this further diagnosis: Either his submandibular or sublingual glans are swollen or he had a congentital teratoma. 

I have not put a link to congenital teratoma, which is an encapsulated tumor with tissue or organ components, so as to spare squeamish readers from learning about horrid medical conditions. (Never say I didn't warn you)  I just hope it did not cause this gentleman too much discomfort. 

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Folk Musicians of the Auvergne

15 July 2011

The rustic charm of the countryside was a favorite theme for early postcards, and many pastoral photocards were produced for France's south central region known as the Auvergne. Pictures of the quaint provincial musicians and dancers were popular with French tourists, eager to tell the folks back home about the wonderful time they were missing.

This handsome musician sits atop a tavern table en-wrapped with  his Cabrette, a small bagpipe of France. Originally mouth-blown like the familiar Scottish bagpipes, this instrument uses a bellows under the right arm to pump air into the bag clutched under the left. The chanter and drone pipes are mounted together at the top of the bag.

The word cabrette means little goat in Occitan, the other main language of France. The Cabretaire wears the traditional sabot or wooden clogs that were the standard footwear of farms across Europe.

The card was sent in 1916 and the challenge of reading an old cursive style in a foreign language has defeated me. I do have a notion that the message might involve :
600 œufs a la minute = 600 eggs a minute

The sound of a cabrette is much softer than highland pipes, as it only has one drone. The chanter pipe can have one or two simple finger keys but the scale and range is very limited, so it is only suitable for folk tunes. 

But why do other similar postcards show the musicians seated on top of barrels or tables? After a search for videos on YouTube, like this one from a Dutch bagpipe expert, a cabrette performance explains all. This is an instrument playing to accompany the dance, and the wooden shoes are used as drums. Add a table (and some wine) and one musician can sound like six.

  UPDATE 03 May 2016  

A very generous reader has sent me a translation of the message.
My notion of 600 eggs a minute is not exactly correct.

Mon cher Ozil,
Ton vieux tireur est enfin
arrivé à bon port. Je tire encore,
mais ta pièce va moins vite.
Ce qui ne fait pas du tout le
bonheur de V… qui voudrait des
600 coups à la minute; rien
que ça …
Partirai d‘ici vraisemblable-
ment le 5 janvier. Te souhaite
de tout-cœur une bonne et
heureuse année
ton vieux trempe la mort !

My dear Ozil,
Your old shooter [not the gunman but the gun?] has arrived
safely.  I am still shooting,
but your piece [machine gun] goes slower.
What does not the
happiness of V ... who would of
600 rounds per minute;
just that …
Probably leave here on January, 5. Wish you
from all my heart a happy new year,
your old quench the death [slang: corrects death]

My reader adds this conclusion:

On December 28, 1916, Marcel, French soldier during World War I, is writing this card (sent in an envelope, no address on the card) to his old friend and soldier Ozil. The machine gun sent by this friend has safely/finally arrived. But the rate of fire of this gun is not satisfying to  V…, Marcel’s superior (?), who expects the maximum of 600 round/min. Marcel is going to leave Saint Beauzire, a suburb of Clermont-Ferrand/Auvergne, in the middle of France and far from the front, on January 5, 1917. Thirteen lines, a few 60 words, offering a short glance on the life of a poor, regrettable soldier, sending a view from a stop on his journey to the front, showing a scene of peaceful rural folklore, and joining in a bizarre manner his new year wishes to the description of problems with his death-bringing device and his imperious superior officer.

Thank you, G.M., for providing this translation and giving this charming postcard a better historical context.

If you know Dutch, this video gives a nice explanation of this characteristic French bagpipe.



This next video gives a very good close-up of the Cabrette playing method.
I don't think he is wearing clogs.



Another L'Auvergne Pittoresque musician uses a wine cask for his seat while playing his Joueur de Vielle, or Hurdy Gurdy. This unusual folk instrument has a long ancestry and is a remarkabley complex machine. The sound is made by strings set to vibrate by the friction of a rotating disk turned by a crank. The player has a small keyboard for the left hand which presses little tangents onto the strings at the various scale intervals.

Like the bagpipes, the hurdy gurdy was a traditional instrument in many parts of Europe and came in many regional variations. In addition to the 2 melodic strings there are 4 outer strings set onto a bridge, that produce a nasal drone not unlike the bagpipes.

The hurdy gurdy was often elaborately decorated and on this one you can see a carved figurehead on the scrollbox.

This card was posted to Paris in 1904 and the message reads in translation:

I could not send you peaches,
they were too ripe.
I am sending you at the station
a box of raisins.

Please accept my sincere regards
Stephane ?

Perhaps a  box like the one under the vielle player's clog?

Here's a good example of how the hurdy gurdy works.



And here the Joueur de Vielle and Cabrette are played together in a folk band
dressed in traditional French costumes.

And from an amateur travel video (today's modern postcard) to
the village 
of St. Agnan, in the Dordogne area of France
- a whole band of hurdy gurdies and cabrettes with costumed dancers.

Grab your stick and dance!

And finally a very funny solo demonstration
of La Cabrette.

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The J. T. Wortham Carnival Band

09 July 2011

One of the old delights of summertime was the return of the carnival. In America's western states on the Great Plains, where homes were scattered across a vast grid of farms and ranch lands, and communities were isolated from the urban centers back east, the appearance of a carnival show became a major event. But one that was not always desired.

Ten bandsmen of the J. T. Wortham Show Band of 1923 take a moment between sets to pose for a publicity photo. They stand in front of a show tent for a traveling carnival run by John T. Wortham of Texas. Not quite a circus and not just a vaudeville revue, the carnival show provided rural America with a unique entertainment complete with wild animals, strange curiosities, deceptive games, dizzying rides, novelty food, and of course - loud band music.

What makes this large format photo a remarkable bit of cultural trivia is the ethnic heritage of some of the bandsmen. At least three and maybe more are notably dark skinned men. The snare drummer (back L), one clarinetist (front L), and the cornet player (3rd from R) are not typical musicians to see in a photo of 1923 America. This is the era of racial segregation and Jim Crow laws. Discrimination was the rule in the USA and the opportunities for musicians of color were slim to non-existent. The one exception was the world of the circus and the carnival.

My theory on their background is that they are not African-American, but Native American.  In both the West and Northeast, there were several state schools for Indians that promoted their bands of woodwind and brass players. And given the Texas origins for the Wortham Shows, these schools seem a likely source for musicians, especially since the main specialty of carnivals was exhibiting the unusual.

Many circus bands were quite large with 30 to 50 players, so this one is small. It is interesting that there are two trumpets but only one cornet, as this is the time when the the cornet, the dominant lead brass instrument for the last century, begins to be overtaken in popularity by the trumpet. Note also the special hat badge on one trumpet player (4th from R) denoting him as the bandmaster.

The Wortham Carnival Shows were started in 1910 by Clarence Wortham, and eventually had 7 touring productions. In 1922, John T. Wortham took over the business after the untimely death of his older brother. The shows traveled along the rail lines, advertising their size by the number of cars. One carnival carried over 500 people on a special train of 25 cars.

The 1930 Census for Stockton, California had 4 pages devoted to the J. T. Wortham Show. John T. Wortham, age 44, is listed as Proprietor, Traveling Show with his wife Leah, 41, a cashier. This show had a work force of 153 people and included 12 people identified as negro who were musicians and dancers. Another musician, Duke Kamakua, was born in Hawaii and was probably part of the hula girl attraction.

On March 22, 1922, The Mexia Evening News (TX), carried the following short report:

In his "Dixieland" with the John T. Wortham shows, R.H. Cobb has gathered together a number of the most talented negro performers in America. This minstrel company is headed by Mme. Rainey, the great 'blues" singer, who has played all the bigtime vaudeville circuits, and Ezekill Hill, "Little Zeke," the negro comedian and dancer extraordinary. A notable feature of "Dixieland" is the jazz orchestra directed by Prof. Snapp, the noted colored pianist.

A few days earlier, the Mexia Evening News ran this ad showing:
Nellie the cow with six legs and two tails; Johan Aason - the Norwegian Boy Giant, 8 feet 9 ¼ inches tall; and Madam Rainey, Texas' leading colored singer of the Mississippi blues. (Who may or may not have been Ma Rainey, 1886-1939, the so-called Mother of the Blues.)

More so than the circus, the carnival show acquired a very poor reputation in many towns, as they were associated with every kind of vice, and were notorious for con men and cheats. Many shows found their bookings cancelled after review by a town council. In an effort to attack the opposition straight on, the show owners organized a lobbying group in 1923 and announced special reforms. The list of things they were fixing tells more about why carnivals deserved such a scandalous regard.

 In a 1923 report from the wonderfully named, The Lubbock Daily Avalanche (TX), the J.T. Wortham Show was described as:

Cleanest Every (sic)
Held Here.

The old day of the petty thieving carnival game is gone. The people of America are demanding clean shows with a clean, high moral tone to the entertainments. The show and carnival people themselves are taking the lead in this work of cleaning up the shows. An idea of how they are doing this may be had from the following letter written by John T. Wortham to the Fair Association:

Realizing that there were certain abuses in the manner in which carnivals and circuses were conducted, a number of the owners met in Chicago this spring and organized "The Showmen's Legislative Committee." Eighty-five per cent of the legitimate carnival owners belong to this organization. We secured Mr. Thomas J. Johnson, a well known attorney of Chicago, as Commissioner, and Mr. Johnson now has the authority and occupies the same position in the outdoor show world that Judge Landis and Mr. Will Hays hold in baseball and moving picture interests.

Mr Johnson has made rules for the conduct of carnivals, prohibiting the following:

All '49 camps; all hoochie-coochie shows; all Hawaiian village shows with dancers; all fairy-in-the-well shows; all immodest, immoral or suggestive shows; all shows exclusively for men; all shows with a final blow-off; all snake-eating shows; all glomming shows which are those where they eat live fowl, rats, mice, or raw meat to give the impression that they are wild men; Gypsies are prohibited from being around, associated or connected with outdoor amusements; all persons under the age of 16 years are prohibited from playing any games unless accompanied by a parent or guardian; all games where money is given as prizes are prohibited; all games where prizes may be exchanged for money are prohibited; all games where the operator or attendant may. by mechanical trick, brake, or by pinching, squeezing, or otherwise control its speed or determine the outcome are prohibited.

The swing ball, the creeper, the set spindle, the pickout, the cloth and pin, the drop case, the bee-hive, the six-arrow, base-ball or tivoli, the roll down and the hand striker or hinger are prohibited. The carrying, selling, giving away, disposing or exhibiting of dope, narcotics, liquor, or any indecent card, picture, poster, or literature are prohibited. All unsafe or improperly conducted rides are condemned.

All restaurants, eating places, refreshments stands must be kept in a clean and sanitary condition. I am a member of the Showmen's Legislative Committee and am honestly trying to run my show in accordance with the rules made by Mr. Johnson. I feel sure that you will find something of interest in each of my shows and will find that all my concessions are run fairly. I bespeak the patronage at both my shows and concessions of all those who believe in clean outdoor amusements.

Respectfully, JOHN T. WORTHAM

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The Greenhill Ladies' Orchestra

02 July 2011

As the 20th century began, the traditional musical instrument for women was the piano. But the violin was becoming equally popular with women as an outlet for musical talent. Though to a limited extant, women were accepted  as solo performers in the 1900's, and women harpists were sometimes allowed in orchestras, opportunities for women string and wind musicians to play alongside men in professional ensembles did not exist. The solution was to start their own ensembles like the Greenhill Ladies' Orchestra from London. Standing in the center is the conductress, Miss Bessie Greenhill, leading a chamber orchestra of 14 women which includes violins, (presumably a viola too), 2 cellos, double bass, piano, flute, cornet., and percussion. For a similar ensemble of ladies but from an earlier decade, see my post on The Ladies in White.

Her full name is Bessie Lillian Greenhill and she was born in 1873 to James and Emma Greenhill of Hampstead. James was a professor of voice at Harrow, one of England's oldest public schools for boys and one that has a long tradition of singing. One of the more famous alumni, Winston Churchill, who was there in 1888, may have had music lessons with Greenhill. James was a scholar on the music in Shakespeare's plays and must have been something of a musical entrepreneur judging by his ad in The Musical Times of 1886, (center right column). He offered a "Shakespearian Entertainment" illustrating the progress of vocal music from 1597 to 1886.

His oldest daughter, Christine Greenhill, born in 1870 took up the piano, and both Bessie and Christine appear as a duo in London concert reviews from about 1890. They also accompanied their father in his concerts too. That may be Christine, wearing pince-nez, seated at the piano, and the two sisters may be partners in establishing this orchestra.

One performance that got a mention in the May 1st, 1894 issue of The Musical Times, shows how acerbic and caustic the London reviewers could be. After skewering the earlier performers, the writer confesses he did not hear Misses Christine and Bessie Greenhill, having left in disgust just before their performance.

Women got encouragement in the late 19th century to take up the violin  from the success of a few female soloists like Wilma Neruda, who became Lady Halle when she married Sir Charles Halle; and the American violinist Maud Powell who did concert tours in Britain in 1883-84, and 1898- 1905. But it would be several more decades before women would be accepted in the violin sections of the major orchestras.

At this time in London there were several ladies' orchestra that provided music for special events like exhibitions and conferences. In 1894 Bessie played in a benefit concert for the Royal British Nurses Association. She was the leader of the Blue Zouave Ladies Orchestra conducted by Miss Marie Wolaska and it included Miss Marie Woolhouse on flute and Miss Adeleine Parkyn on cornet. Perhaps they remained with Bessie and are also in the photo. It is notable that married women were very uncommon in these ensembles.

The back of this postcard is what makes this an interesting artifact of London musical times. The postmark is unclear, but the stamp of George V in profile was issued in 1912, so about c.1912-15. It's addressed to Miss Lesbia Harrison.
13th St Mary's Terrace, Paddington W.2
Would you let me know if disengaged for
first class seaside Hotel leadership (& solos)
open Sep 11th. Send Terms.
Yours truly, Bessie Greenhill

Lesbia Harrison passed her examination on violin at the Royal Academy of Music in December 1910 as a performer and teacher. Out of a class of 21 students on the violin or violoncello, she was one of 16 young ladies graduating. She appeared in concert listings thorough 1920. Bessie must have worked hard to find musicians for all her engagements, since she probably only employed women.  

Christine Greenhill married Arthur William Leverett, a wood engraver  in September 1897. But Bessie does not seem to have ever married. She died in 1943 in St. Austell Cornwall, a likely place for a first class seaside hotel.

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