David Bruce: Music Anecdotes


President Coolidge and Mother Jones

In Greensburg, Pennsylvania, police arrested several women — the wives of striking miners — who had gathered to shout abuse at strikebreakers, aka scabs. The judge sentenced each woman to pay a fine of $30 or go to jail for 30 days. Since $30 was more than a miner made in a month, the women went to jail — and their nursing babies went to jail with them. Fortunately, union organizer Mother Jones had a plan. She told the women to sing constantly and to sing loudly, and the women did exactly that. Complaints from neighbors poured in, and when the judge told Mother Jones to make the women stop singing, she declined, pointing out that there was nothing wrong in women singing patriotic songs and mothers singing lullabys to their children. After five days of constant noise from the women and constant complaints from the neighbors, the judge could stand it no longer and let the women go free.

In 1939, African-American contralto Marian Anderson wanted to make her Washington D.C. debut at Constitution Hall, but the Daughters of the American Revolution owned it and flatly refused to let her sing there. As a result, the DAR’s most famous member, Eleanor Roosevelt, resigned, and Ms. Anderson gave an outdoor concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, in front of the Lincoln Memorial. She was introduced by Harold Ickes, the then Secretary of the Interior, who said, “Genius draws no color line.” Years later, she sang at Constitution Hall. Asked if she had forgiven the DAR, Ms. Anderson replied, “Ages and ages ago. You lose a lot of time hating people.” Even later, her nephew, James DePreist, conducted an orchestra at Constitution Hall. For him, it was strictly routine. He parked his car there, rehearsed there, conducted there, and no one thought it was odd that he was an African-American doing all these things.

The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean played similar kinds of surfing music. In fact, when Brian Wilson was unable to come up with a good ending for “Surf City,” he gave the song to Jan Berry. Mr. Berry came up with a good ending, then recorded it with his singing partner, Dean Torrence, and it became a No. 1 hit. Later, when the Beach Boys were recording “Barbara Ann,” Mr. Torrence happened to be in the studio, and he recorded the lead vocals. However, he didn’t get any credit on the album notes because according to his contract, the only group he could record for was Jan and Dean.

In the early 1980s, while the star rap group Disco 3 was in Switzerland, their manager, Charles Settler, looked at their hotel bill and was impressed by a charge in addition to lodging — the three-member group had eaten $350 of food. Mr. Settler renamed the group The Fat Boys. The group had first achieved success when it came in second in a 1983 rap contest held by Coca-Cola. They were very happy with their prize of a $5000 stereo system — and even happier, as well as surprised, to learn that second prize also included a record contract with Sutra Records.

As a youngster, Buddy Holley (later he became known as “Holly” because of a typo on a contract he signed) and Bob Montgomery played country music as a duo. Buddy and Bob once played at a seventh-grade dance, where they dedicated a song to the teachers: “Too Old to Cut the Mustard.” Buddy’s mother was present, and she was embarrassed. Later, she said that she wished the duo had picked a different song to dedicate to the teachers.

Music can transcend cultures. Salsa music is a blend of many musical styles, including Spanish guitar, African rhythms, and North American rock, jazz, and rhythm and blues. Nevertheless, in Japan is a salsa band called Orquesta De La Luz. Its members speak Japanese, not Spanish, but sing the Spanish lyrics phonetically. People who know salsa music say that the music of Orquesta De La Luz sounds like real salsa.

The movie Star Wars is 110 minutes long, and music plays for 90 of those minutes. Filmmaker George Lucas decided to have a musical theme for each of the major characters — the music for Darth Vader is very easily recognizable — and the theme plays when that character is on the screen. Mr. Lucas got the idea from the symphony Peter and the Wolf, which has themes for each of its major characters.

Woody Allen largely taught himself how to play jazz trumpet by listening to and imitating the records of jazz great George Lewis. After Mr. Allen recorded the soundtrack for his movie Sleeper with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the New Orleans Funeral and Ragtime Orchestra, trombonist Jim Robinson said to him, “Did anyone ever tell you that you sound like my friend George Lewis?”

Cellist Pablo Casals enjoyed seeing and learning new things. To understand the life of coal miners in the United States, Mr. Casals and pianist Léon Moreau went down into a mine shaft in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. When Mr. Casals and Mr. Moreau reached the surface again, it was time for their concert, which they gave while still covered with coal dust.

Music can exert a powerful effect on human beings. In December 1937, during the Spanish civil war, African-American actor/singer Paul Robeson went to Spain. While there, he sang — soldiers on both sides of the conflict called a truce for a hour just so they could hear his concert.

Harold Hoffman says that when he was Governor, for the first year of his administration, bands played “Hail to the Chief” at his public appearances, but for the last two years of his administration, they played, “I’ll be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You.”

Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis believes that it takes more skill to play jazz than it takes to play classical music. In 1984, he won Grammys for making both kinds of music — he won as Best Classical Soloist with Orchestra and as Best Jazz Soloist. He also decided that year to devote himself solely to playing jazz.

Part of the influence of jazz musician Louis Armstrong lay in the path that he blazed for so many other jazz musicians. Dizzy Gillespie once said about Mr. Armstrong, “No him, no me.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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