UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 22–23 May 2020: “A Musical, Historical, and Ukulele Trifecta”

Well, it’s not too often that my musing stars align with a trifecta–the anniversary of a feat by an American hero, a link to our hometown Northampton’s Smith College, and vintage ukuleles!  Wow.  It’s fun to muse these days about something that has nothing to do with viruses, sequestration, and social distancing.  So, who is our hero?  None other than “Lindy” himself, Charles Lindbergh.

His solo flight from New York to Paris, in May of 1927, was a thrill for Americans living in the Roaring Twenties and adulation on both sides of the Atlantic poured out.  Men cheered and ladies swooned as Lindbergh’s picture was in every newspaper, magazine, and movie newsreel for months.

Needless to say, music publishers jumped all over this and a score of sheet music offerings—some joyful, some banal, most soon forgotten—were on music store shelves all over America. 

Here’s a contemporary recording of the “angel” tune with some great graphics. Click or tap on the next image for a look and listen.

There are more! The next one shows Lindy and his mother. His father was a US Congressman from Minnesota.

Here’s a bouncy version of this George M. Cohan tune. Click or tap on the next image for a listen.

Here are a few more of the dozens of songs that were out there in the sweet old days.

Tap or click on the next image to hear this hearty salute to the hero.

Here’s a more modern version of a “Lindy” tune but well worth a listen and a look. Tap or click on the next image for a treat.

Most, as would be expected, had ukulele chords printed right above the score

and everyone seemed to be playing and singing the tunes.  And, of course, there were ukuleles to be had!

Here’s that Stromberg Voisinet “Aero Uke,” probably the rarest of the lot today. Here’s a reproduction I made to fill a hole in my collection. It sounds pretty good!

Here’s a banjo uke version, an original from my collection.

This one from my collection was endorsed by the famed ukulele player Johnny Marvin back in the 1920s. It has a “Lindy style” airplane bridge, no less!

There were also strings!

And, alas, the one ukulele I keep looking for! I might just have to cut a stencil and make a copy, properly labeled of course. We’ll see.

Now, the Northampton connection.  According to our favorite local newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Lindbergh flew into the local airFIELD (it became a commercial airPORT in 1929) multiple times in order to visit his then girlfriend, Anne Morrow, a student at Smith College, class of 1928.   They were married in 1929.

That year, Anne–a budding aviatrix herself– flew solo for the first time.

Needless to say, aviation was in the couples blood and, in the 1930s, they explored and charted air routes all over the world. There was even a song about them!

Whether or not he courted her by taking her up in his airplane over our Happy Valley and Smith College has, alas, always been a matter of conjecture. 

Let us simply note the fact that he was a frequent visitor. 

Anne went on to literary fame with her most popular book being Gift from the Sea. In 1955, she was described as “one of the leading advocates of the nascent environmental movement” and the book became a national bestseller.

There are, of course, autobiographies, biographies, articles, and all sorts of scholarship on the Lindberghs.  And, their life story is way, WAY beyond the scope of this simple musical muse.  Suffice it to say that the charmed life of Charles and Anne was shattered by the kidnapping and subsequent death of their infant son in the 1930s. 

Alas, the Lindbergh name was again plastered over newspapers and newsreels all over the country. Sad this time. 

Alas, again, Charles, a highly visible public advocate for keeping America out of Europe’s troubles in the years leading up to World War Two, had his reputation tarred by many (including Franklin Roosevelt in the White House and Woody Guthrie in song) as being a German sympathizer as well as an isolationist.  Whereas Anne became renowned for her writing, Charles faded from public esteem during the war years although he did join the American forces once the war started and flew fifty missions in the Pacific Theater albeit as a civilian consultant rather than in the military.

And, at last, his early heroics were re-appreciated thanks to James Stewart in the way only movie magic can do.

 But we still have the stories, the songs, and—most important to us—the ukuleles! So, gentle readers, we wind up this musing with a tune played on a genuine “Aero Uke,” not mine! Click or tap on the next image to be flown away, musically speaking.  

Stay safe, keep strumming, study up on local lore, stay grounded, and STAY TUNED!

(As an aside, Alison’s mother was a Smithie, class of 1930, and remembered sharing a few classes with the then Anne Morrow. Small world . . .)   

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton and, now, Easthampton, Mass.

Hi friends, neighbors, and fellow strummers. These “musings” are based on my interest and study of Banjo and Ukulele history, lore, and music. My goal is to both educate and enlighten by sharing what I have learned within a broad musical and historical context—with honesty and, at times, a bit of humor. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

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