Music is, and always has been, the universal language. No matter what our background, we find enjoyment in many kinds of music. Even the “po’ folk” of years ago had musical instruments played by members of their family for enjoyment and entertainment, if only the old wind-up phonograph or battery radio.
The phonograph (called also the gramophone or graph phone) had a prestigious place in the family parlor. The 10-inch 78 rpm records could be purchased at the local dime store. We would have the store clerk play the record for us first before purchase, then at home this record was played over until we knew the lyrics and music by heart. Seventy-eight records were very durable; I have some early 78s (recorded only on one side) from the early 1900s that are still playable, but not as clear and distinct as they were years before.
Our phonograph was in two parts. The bottom was a cabinet with many shelves for record storage. The top was removable and contained the “voice box,” mechanical arm and needle, a spindle to hold the record in place and a side hand crank for its operation.
The only expense was a package of new needles every several months, depending on how much we used the machine. A “full” crank would wind the motor sufficiently to play one side or perhaps both sides of a record. As a child, I didn’t seem to have the ability to know when to stop cranking and many times wound it too tight, which would eventually snap the spring.
My husband’s uncle’s family had an old Edison record player; complete with horn and cylinders (instead of the later flat records). This was the earliest of the phonographs available. Family and relatives had many hours of enjoyment listening to these cylinders of old-time music.
Two of the one-sided 78 rpm records I still have are “Silver Bell” and “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” Some of my favorite 78s recorded on both sides are “Pop Goes The Weasel,” “Red Wing,” “Hello, Central,” “Twenty-One Years,” and later, “Pearl Harbor,” “Praise The Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere,” “God Bless America,” “This is the Army, Mr. Jones,” “Bless Them All,” “Rosie the Riveter,” “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me),” and “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer.”
Some of the more common 78 record makers were Decca, Madison, Supertone, Perfect, Silvertone, Okeh, Velvet Tone, Victor (with the dog), Columbia, Sharp, Flash and Aladdin.
After World War II, 78 rpm records were still good sellers; by then, the record players could also play 33s and 45s. Then along came the stereos, cassette tapes, CDs and now the computer iPods of present day. They all produce the same result: MUSIC.
Early radio in our home consisted of a battery-operated table model. At night, with everyone gathered around, we would listen to station WJJD with the Carter Family, or WLS and the Barn Dance with Lulu Belle and Scotty. Around suppertime, we kids listened to Jack Armstrong, All America Boy, The Green Hornet and Captain Midnight.
Family listening featured the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, Amos and Andy, Fibber McGee and Molly and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. In later years we’d hear Jack Benny and George Burns and Gracie Allen, and always the news broadcasts.
As far as creating our own family music, my brother and I could play the harmonica (mouth organ). I had a ukulele and my brother an ocarino. As I look back, I realize I was best at turning the crank on the phonograph and listening to my favorite records.
Our mother and father often sang songs of their homeland which they had learned as children in Denmark, and we learned of these, too, not fully understanding the lyrics, but enjoying the music that was part of our heritage.
In school each morning, after the Pledge of Allegiance, we would sing “America,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” “Yankee Doodle” and many “rounds.”
I have always loved music, but not being a musician or singer, I have depended on the music of others to help me through many circumstances in my life. I’m sure I am not alone in this feeling for music, as it is truly the universal language and is understood by all, for each joy and sorrow in our lives.