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David Bruce: 250 Music Anecdotes: Children


• Stevie Wonder’s father was a joker. He told his children, who spent the early part of their life in Saginaw, Michigan, which was very cold in the winter, that Saginaw was located only 12 miles from the North Pole. Mr. Wonder said, “I believed that for a long time.” Mr. Wonder himself is a joker. Although he is blind, he once told Jetmagazine that he wanted to judge a beauty contest. Once, when he entered someone’s living room he moved his head from side to side and said, “Wow, really nice place you got here.” When he was young, his friends and family played a game with him. They would throw a coin on a table, and he would listen to it and identify it: “That’s a dime” or “That’s a quarter.” He did have difficulty distinguishing between the sound of a nickel and the sound of a penny. When he was young, another joke he played was on his friend Dionne Warwick, who had a red dress that the Shirelles hated, so the Shirelles enlisted Mr. Wonder’s help. He was able to identify her by the perfume she wore and so he would greet her. She asked him, “Hello, baby, how are you today?” He replied, “Dionne, I don’t like that red dress.” Ms. Warwick said, “It scared me, because I know he’s blind and there’s no way in the world this kid can see this dress, but if he didn’t like it I’m takin’ it off. I never wore that dress again. It took two or three years before the Shirelles finally broke down and told me what they’d done.” Mr. Wonder once said, “Being physically blind is no crime, but being spiritually blind is a serious handicap.”

• The father of piano prodigy Clara Wieck, who married composer Robert Schumann in 1840, was Frederick Wieck, and he could be a hard man to deal with. When Clara was a child, he once thought that she had played a piano piece poorly, and he tore up the music and called her “lazy, careless, disorderly, stubborn, and disobedient.” He also refused to let her play her favorite pieces of music for weeks and returned the music to her only after she promised to be good. She had high standards for piano playing. When she was still a 10-year-old child but playing concerts professionally, she once was given a poor piano to play at a concert. After she had finished, the members of the audience applauded, but she stood up and told them, “Now you are clapping, and I know that I played badly.” As she said that, some tears ran down her cheeks. When she was 12 years old, the famous German writer Johann von Goethe said about her, “She plays with as much strength as six boys.” She was born in 1819 and lived in a sexist age. In 1879, when she was a widow, she taught at an important music conservatory in Frankfurt, whose director wrote about her, “With the exception of Madame Schumann, there is no woman and there will not be any women employed in the Conservatory. As for Madame Schumann, I count her as a man.”

• When Joan Oliver Goldsmith, a volunteer singer in a chorus, was around seven years old, her younger sister made a 25-cent bet with her that she would not be able to go an entire day without singing. (In 1958, 25 cents would buy two Superman comic books.) In the afternoon, Joan forgot the bet and started to sing, “Thumbelina, Thumbelina, tiny little thing.” The adult Joan decided to switch from singing soprano to alto in the chorus. When other people in the chorus asked her about the change, she replied, “Yes, I’ve switched from soprano to alto. I’ve also moved from St. Paul to Minneapolis. I can’t think of any more fundamental changes short of a sex-change operation.” By the way, this is a joke that singers sometimes tell among themselves: “How many sopranos does it take to screw in a light bulb? […] Three. One to screw it in. One to pull the ladder out from under her. And one to say, ‘I could have done it better than that!’”

• Country singer LeAnn Rimes’ father, Wilbur, learned early not to underestimate her talent. When she was six years old, she entered a talent contest, at which she sang the song “Getting to Know You” well. However, her father saw that the other contestants were twice as old as LeAnn, so he figured that the judges would not vote for her. Therefore, he went hunting instead of waiting for the results of the talent contest. When he got home, LeAnn was carrying into their home the first-place trophy. Obviously, LeAnn started singing early in her life. Her mother, Belinda, remembers her sleeping in the family car, waking up and singing a song and then going to sleep again. And as a professional singer, the young LeAnn would play with her Barbies in her dressing room until it was time to go on stage and sing.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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