This project has long roots.
In 1976 I was engaged by the U.S.National Park Service to produce and perform in
a show about America's music and cultural history. The show was performed at many
east coast National Parks for the Bicentennial celebrations held that summer.
My research continued and became much easier as the internet evolved. Then six years
ago I discovered Theresa Ott Vaughn (1863 (approx.) -1903).
This lead to an intensive research project and the writing of several interesting, culturally
important books about Theresa. Vaughn was Theresa’s stage name, Ott was her birth name).
I’m now producing replicas of the 1880 Buckbee banjo she performed with
and hopefully will soon begin work on a related documentary, film or show.
Theresa is/was very important in our cultural evolution in several ways.
In 1881, at 18, she joined the W.A.Mestayer musical comedy traveling show/troupe.
They traveled coast to coast, always with great success by horse drawn wagon,
train and steamship.
Theresa very soon became our major star performer.
She could sing opera in French, Italian & German, was a ballerina;
a brilliant comedian and one of the very earliest of banjo players.
When Theresa began to play banjo, Appalachian, minstrel music and banjos
were very popular across America and in England.
This may have been somewhat due to the very colorful influences of
two earlier banjo performers: Joel Walker Sweeney and Lotta Crabtree.
1) Joel Walker Sweeney (1810-1860) Appomattox VA:
Joel's show was Appalachian / minstrel music and very rural comedy,
including animal imitations. He had many comic songs. Joel sang and
played banjo.. with great skill. For time perspective ...
Joel was 17 when Thomas Jefferson passed on.
They lived 64 miles from each other.
In 1843 Joel performed for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert ...
He may have had some other performers with him.
After a year he returned to America and deposited $7,000 in gold coins in the
Lynchburg VA bank.
Later the Queen shipped a stage coach as an additional gift to him to him with
four white horses.
2) Lotta Crabtree (1847-1924):
Sang, played banjo and danced.
Like Theresa, Lotta was also a York City girl.
She was of our very colorful gold rush era
... especially colorful those days was San Francisco.
When Lotta performed in San Francisco it was teaming with
shows, plays, restaurants, bars, gamblers, guns and prospectors. It became
a magnet for theater people and performers worldwide. There were shops with
gold nuggets, prospecting tools and supplies.
Theresa Ott Vaughn (1863 (approx.) -1903)
In 1881, Theresa at 18 burst onto the scene.
A “spritely juvenile lady” from New York City she excelled at the very popular
Appalachian and minstrel music; it's doggerel singing and humor.
Later a reporter said she was the “apotheosis of girl”.
By the 1890's Theresa became our major star everywhere and on Broadway.
She began to explore and evolve new music but still played the older music.
Her new music was very beautiful ... romantic, poetic. Some sounded like Chopin and Strauss.
Note the song "Love Sweet Love" on Main page ( about 80% down the page) :
There's much to tell. Much information on the above website ).
I believe that Theresa, W.A. Mestayer and J.H. Buckbee formed a wonderful important root
that lead to the many contributions of Rogers and Hammerstein to our culture.
Going back futher I believe the two most fantastic bards, Shakespeare and Chaucer likely
formed the major tap root Broadway and all theater.
In the 1890’s Theresa experimented with and transformed banjo music. She made a small
quantum jump from earlier Appalachian and minstrel music to the realm of romance, beauty
Even now it's just a very small step from Appalachian and minstrel music to the
wonderful music the R&H Cinderella show.
Theresa and Broadway influenced each other.
Oscar Hammerstein (I) was a very prominent theatrical impressario,
inventor and builder of theaters. He created the great Olympia theater in 1895.
Theresa was the major Broadway star at those days.
I believe the music of Rogers and Hammerstein (II) shows a DNA like connection
Theresa's influence and our earlier Appalachian and minstrel music.
Singing and accompanying herself with her magical Buckbee banjo
Theresa evolved our early music to a more modern music.
The 19th century was closing.
The songs from the Cinderella show can bring out the magical tonal abilities of the Buckbee banjo.
It's interesting that those songs would sound totally wrong, even silly on any banjo made after 1903.
Why ? ... after 1903 all banjo rims became made from laminated wood... basically plywood.
To get more volume and tone endless metal tone chamber and tone ring designs
were devised…. but modern banjos never regained the lost, magical bell like ringing tones
of the Buckbee banjos. The sounds can sometimes be surprizing,,,,
This quote from Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1835–1910),
It perfectly describes the Buckbee sound and any the other bent wood banjos of the time.
"The piano may do for love-sick girls who lace themselves to skeletons, and lunch on chalk,
pickles and slate pencils. But give me the banjo. Gottschalk compared to Sam Pride or
Charley Rhoades, is as a Dashaway cocktail to a hot whiskey punch. When you want
genuine music -- music that will come right home to you like a bad quarter, suffuse your system
like strychnine whiskey, go right through you like Brandreth's pills, ramify your whole constitution
like the measles, and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose,
-- when you want all this, just smash your piano, and invoke the glory-beaming banjo!"
Mark Twain - "Enthusiastic Eloquence," San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle, 23 June 1865
In Theresa's hands, the Buckbee was like a sparkling magic musical wand in the bright
used in those days. The lime lights and the even brighter Carbon arc lamps would sparkle
brightly from her nickel plated Buckbee banjo.
In 1903 Theresa and John H. Buckbee both passed away.
After 1903 all banjos became fabricated from laminated plywood.
Metal tone chambers were added to enhance the lost sound … only volume was gained …
but the wonderful original Buckbee tones where lost… banjos became cold, hard and metallic
sounding .. not at all close to the Buckbee sound.
I hope to stir up interest in all this and produce a play, documentary or movie soon.
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