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Currently at Sousa

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.”

John Philip Sousa — America’s Legacy through his Music, Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, October 1, 2019 – February 28, 2021.

John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) is one of America’s most recognized composers and bandleaders, and much of his music reflects his unflagging patriotism and musical response to major national and international events that affected the country during his lifetime.  He wrote over 336 original compositions, and arranged and transcribed an additional 322 works, many of which he produced while on his band’s numerous tours.  Sousa was not only the creator of America’s most recognized marches, but also a master of grand theatrical entertainment through them.  He is credited with transforming the simple repetitive da capo form of early march melodies into much more dramatic trio forms.  His most popular marches – The Stars and Stripes Forever, The Liberty Bell, and the Invincible Eagle – reflect these changes in style, where dramatic contrasts between woodwind solos and energetic low-brass ritornellos give way to rousing lyrical finales that always energized concert audiences.  This exhibit of original scores highlights some of Sousa’ composition techniques, and documents the historical events that inspired the March King to craft these works.

Prohibition — America’s Folly and John Philip Sousa,  Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, July 25, 2019 – February 28, 2021.

On November 11, 1918, American troops began returning home from the European trenches of WWI after the Allies and Germany signed the Armistice of Compiègne. Despite the horrors young servicemen experienced overseas they were not allowed to drink alcohol on U.S. soil.  Seven days after signing the Armistice, Congress passed the Temporary Wartime Prohibition Act banning the sale of liquids with an alcohol content greater than 1.28%. The following January Congress ratified the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which banned the sale of alcohol. In October 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act, which enforced the new Amendment by establishing a legal definition for intoxicating liquors and introducing severe penalties for producing, selling, and purchasing alcohol. This Federal Act also made it illegal to carry even an empty pocket flask on the streets. The 18th Amendment, known as Prohibition, officially took effect in 1920 and was not repealed until 1933, when Congress passed the 21st Amendment.  During the height of the government’s crackdown on alcohol production and consumption, Sousa composed his musical humoresque, “The Mingling of the Wets and the Drys,” which highlighted America’s two opposing views of Prohibition. However, during its planned premiere performance at the Ocean Grove Auditorium in New Jersey on July 10, 1926, numerous moralist groups called for a boycott of the concert if Sousa did not remove the humoresque from the concert program.  This exhibit examines the fallout of the first performances of “The Mingling of the Wets and the Drys” and illustrates the effects of America’s 18th Amendment on John Philip Sousa and his Band during the country’s roaring 1920s.

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, 2021.

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.