January 28 is the day we celebrate kazoos. For most people, a kazoo is something you give a small child to keep them busy, but kazoos were first conceived as legitimate instruments. The kazoo is based on an African instrument and was invented in the 1840s by a former slave, Alabama Vest. That is to say, he devised the plans, and the instrument was built by Thaddeus von Clegg, a German immigrant clockmaker. They introduced it at the Georgia State Fair in 1852. Commercial production began in 1912.
Kazoos are part of the “mirliton” or “membranophone” family. These instruments all have a vibrating membrane that can be covered or partially covered to make a variety of sounds. To play the kazoo, you merely have to hum into it. According to some I read, the only true kazoos are manufactured in their plant in Eden, New York (south of Buffalo), where there is also a museum.
I must admit this day caught my eye because I was part of a (successful) attempt in Rochester, New York on New Year’s Eve in 2006 to set a Guinness world record for the most number of kazoos played. 2679 people were involved, and it was a lot of fun.
You probably didn’t know that classical musicians like Richard Wagner, Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives actually wrote pieces using the kazoo, and the instrument was also utilized by Frank Zappa, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, who used the kazoo for his classic “Crosstown Traffic.”
You can actually find a fair amount of kazoo music on YouTube, from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” played as a kazoo solo, to “Kazoo’s of Destiny,” by someone called Mister Tim, which is billed as a full album of relaxing kazoo music. One I really like is “My Gal Sal,” played by the Mound City Blue Blowers from 1929.
Quotes about kazoos
I think the kazoo and chocolate-chip cookies have a lot in common. All you need is a mouth to appreciate either one.–Wally Amos
What, exactly, is the internet? Basically it is a global network exchanging digitized data in such a way that any computer, anywhere, that is equipped with a device called a ‘modem’, can make a noise like a duck choking on a kazoo.–Dave Barry
Know someone you hate? Give their kid a kazoo!–Dana Gould
That’s me: an old kazoo with some sparklers.–Bette Davis
She felt like a world-class musician standing before a full auditorium and handed a kazoo.–James S. A. Corey
And quotes on music in general
Beauty addresses itself chiefly to sight, but there is a beauty for the hearing too, as in certain combinations so words and in all kinds of music; for melodies and cadences are beautiful…–Plotinus
For heights and depths no words can reach, music is the soul’s own speech.–Author unknown
I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.–George Eliot
Music cleanses the understanding; inspires it, and lifts it into a realm which it would not reach if it were left to itself.–Henry Ward Beecher
Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.–Victor Hugo
Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.–Ludwig van Beethoven
Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.–A. A. Milne
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