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Exhibits

Currently at Sousa

Singing the Temperance Blues, Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, March 25, 2021 – March 25, 2022.

America’s 18th Amendment, more commonly known as Prohibition, took effect in 1920, and quickly influenced all aspects of society, including music composition. However, songs and morality plays about the benefits of banning alcohol had existed in America long before the amendment’s ratification. The first temperance songbooks appeared before the Civil War as public interest in the prohibition and temperance movements gained momentum. During the mid-1860s urban neighborhoods blossomed with new arrivals from Europe, and new moral reform groups saw prohibition as their only remedy for controlling the country’s increased use of alcohol.

Musicians working in New York’s Tin Pan Alley and clearly on the other side of the Prohibition debate, frequently composed comical retorts to Prohibition that skewered America’s “wet” and “dry” movements.  Tin Pan Alley was the epicenter of America’s popular music scene between the late-1880s and 1920s, and its most recognized composers – Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Cole Porter – served as musical foils to Prohibition.

Unlike the Prohibition songsters that helped empower the suffrage and temperance movements, Tin Pan Alley songs swooned to the joy of alcohol. Songs like Jean Schwartz’s Sahara (We’ll Soon Be Dry like You), Albert von Tilzer’s I’ve got the Alcoholic Blues, and Irving Berlin’s I’ll See You in C-U-B-A expressed comical distain for prohibition’s benefits to society.  Other songs, like Goodbye, Wild Women, Goodbye, lamented America’s expulsion from the garden of free-flowing alcohol.

The Sousa Archives’ exhibit illustrates the complex morass of America’s Prohibition movement during the 1920s through popular sheet music cover art, melodies and lyrics, and historical sound recordings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The online version of this exhibit can be accessed through Singing the Temperance Blues.

America’s Hawaiian Imaginations through Letritia Kandle and Eddie Alkire, Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, December 8, 2020 – December 15, 2021.

America’s fascination with Hawaiian culture reached its peak during the Great Depression. The country needed a temporary escape from the Depression’s daily uncertainties, and its people eagerly embraced Hawaiian music for their imaginary travels to exotic places. By this time, “slack-key” guitar had already become a part of mainstream American musical culture with its use of altered tunings and finger picking techniques first popularized in Hawaii by Portuguese sugar cane workers. Slack-key styles of the 1830s blended western-European performance techniques on a six-stringed instrument, called the guitarra portuguesa, and traditional Hawaiian melodies played on a four-stringed instrument originally called the ukeke, but today referred to as the ukulele.

Two of America’s leading performers, innovators, and educators of Hawaiian music in the 1930s and 40s were Letritia Kandle (1915-2010) and Eddie Alkire (1907-1981). Like many Americans, Kandle’s first encounter with the guitar was through Warner Baxter’s performance as the Cisco Kid in the film, In Old Arizona (1928). Although her early music experiences were with the Spanish style guitar, after watching performances during the Hawaiian exhibit at the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago, Letritia was inspired to take up the Hawaiian guitar. The following year she formed an all-women’s steel guitar ensemble called the Kohala Girls. In 1937, Paul Whiteman invited her to perform with his jazz band during his radio hour. She performed on an instrument of her own design; a four-neck electric guitar called the “Grand Letar.” By the early 1940s, Kandle had become a leading teacher of the steel guitar in downtown Chicago and eventually became the conductor of the Chicago Plectrophonic Orchestra, an ensemble made up of various string instruments including ukuleles and steel guitars.

Eddie Alkire began his career as an electrician in the coalmines of West Virginia. In the mid-1920s, he taught himself to play the steel guitar by enrolling in a series of correspondence courses. In 1929, he left electrical engineering to perform with the Oahu Serenaders, a group affiliated with Cleveland’s Oahu Publishing Company. As a member of this unique music ensemble, Alkire performed weekly on nationally broadcast radio shows on NBC and CBS. In 1934, he left the Oahu Publishing Company and formed his own music-publishing company and steel-guitar correspondence school. Five years later, he invented a new 10-string electric guitar, called the EHarp (pronounced Ay-Harp).

This new exhibit examines the innovative teaching methods and new guitar technologies developed by Letritia Kandle and Eddie Alkire during the 1930s and 1940s.  The online version of this exhibit can be accessed via “America’s Hawaiian Imaginations through Letritia Kandle and Eddie Alkire.”

James Beauchamp and the Harmonic Tone Generator, Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, September 22, 2015 – January 31, 2022.

James W. Beauchamp earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan in 1960 and 1961, and in 1965 he graduated from the University of Illinois with a PhD in electrical engineering. While a student at Illinois he worked closely with his mentor and composition professor Lejaren Hiller, and created one of America’s first voltage-controlled electronic music synthesizers called the Harmonic Tone Generator (HTG). The HTG was used in several different electronic music projects produced at the University of Illinois during the 1960s and 70s including Salvatore Martirano’s Underworld.  After graduating from Illinois he joined their electrical engineering faculty, and by 1969 had earned a joint appointment in the electrical engineering and music departments.  Between 1969 and 1973 Beauchamp served as director of the School of Music’s Experimental Music Studios (EMS), and as director of the Computer Music Project (CMP) between 1984 and 1993.  In the fall of 1993 Beauchamp and Sever Tipei became co-managers of CMP.  This exhibit documents through photographs, stories, scientific reports, and audio recordings the early development of the HTG at the University of Illinois.