Monday, January 28, 2013

The Kazoo - An #African #American Invention

Kazoo too by squacco

January 28

Kazoo Day

Happy Kazoo Day! The kazoo is a quasi-musical instrument that is considered to be a membranophone. A membranophone is any instrument that produces sound by way of vibrating the stretched membrane. The kazoo makes a buzzing sound that has been likened to the sound of bees. Many children and adults often play with plastic kazoos.

The kazoo is also sometimes called a mirliton. A mirliton is an instrument that was used throughout history all around the world. The most infamous of militons was the tube like militon found throughout Africa. It had a hole in the middle where the African shamans could blow and was used by the shamans at tribal gathering to cause an intimidating psychological effect upon the uninitiated. The tube was made of bone, horns,  gourds and skulls. It had a membrane made from animal or human skins. You learn more about the African mirliton at and early mirlitons at 

The mirliton made its way out of Africa into the hands of the Europeans during the Early Modern Period and was known as the Eunuch flute. The Eunuch flute was a long tube slightly expanding at one end to create an onion like bulb. A fine membrane was attached inside the upper end of the tube with a mouthpiece punched into the wood a few inches below the membrane. 

The kazoo we have all grown to love and cherish was not invented until the early 19th century in the United States. A black man from Macon, Georgia by the name of Alabama Vest came up with the idea for the kazoo in 1840. Vest was a performer and needed some help with his conception so he turned to his German clockmaker friend, Thaddeus Von Clegg, for help. Thaddeus completed their metal like instrument invention in 1842. The kazoo was introduced to the pubic ten years later at the Georgia State Fair as the Down South Submarine. In 1859, Emil Sorg, a businessman encountered the kazoo on one of his business trips. He enticed Alabama and Thaddeus to allow him to take their invention to New York in hopes of mass producing it. Alabama and Thaddeus agreed. Unfortunately, Emil Sorg forgot all about his Georgia friends and stole their rights when he got to New York. He partnered with Michael McIntyre, a ironsmith. Emil and Michael created the first mass produced kazoo in 1912. The kazoo has been popular ever since. 

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