I'm Doug Johnson.
And I'm Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English program, PEOPLEIN AMERICA.Graphic Image
Today, we tell about a worldfamous musician, Larry Adler, who played the harmonica.
The harmonica, or mouth organ, is a simple musical instrument.You blow air into it and it produces sound. Most people consider itnothing but a child's toy.
Anyone can learn to play a few songs on a harmonica. It is notdifficult.
In the hands of Larry Adler, however, the simple harmonica becamean important musical instrument.
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Lawrence Cecil Adler was born February Tenth, Nineteen-Fourteenin Baltimore, Maryland. Music was always very important to LarryAdler. As a child, he sang Jewish religious songs in the synagogue.He was admitted to a famous music school in Baltimore to study thepiano.
Larry Adler was not a student at the school for long. He wasasked to leave because of a song he played at an important schoolperformance. He was supposed to play a classical music piece. Butthe head teacher of the school had made the young Larry Adler angry.So, he played a silly popular song called "Yes, We Have No Bananas."The head teacher became extremely angry. Larry Adler was expelledfrom the school.
That simple incident tells a lot about Larry Adler. He was arebel. He did not like to follow orders from anyone. He lived hislife the way he thought best. Perhaps that is why he chose a musicalinstrument that most people considered a toy. In fact, Larry Adlerwon a music contest in Baltimore playing classical music with theharmonica. He entered the contest and defeated four-hundred otheryoung people by playing music written by Ludwig van Beethoven. Theothers played mostly simple popular songs.
You must listen to his music to understand how serious aninstrument the harmonica was for Larry Adler. Here he plays apopular song called "Blues in the Night."
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Larry Adler ran away from home when he was fourteen years old. Healready knew he wanted to be a musician. He wanted to play theharmonica.
He arrived in New York City and went to see the popular singerRudy Vallee. The man listened to him play. Then he said, "Save yourmoney because once they hear you, that is it. They will never wantto hear you again."
However, Rudy Vallee did help Larry Adler find work. One of hisfirst jobs was playing the harmonica for some of the first MickeyMouse Cartoons produced by Walt Disney.
As a young man, Larry Adler did not know how to read music. Hecould listen to a record played a few times and then play the songwith his harmonica. He could do this with extremely difficult songs.
Not being able to read music did not seem to harm his career. Hewas already a famous musician when a friend told him that readingmusic would increase his understanding of what he was playing. LarryAdler learned to read music.
Larry Adler met the famous music composer George Gershwin at aparty in New York. Mister Gershwin's famous "Rhapsody in Blue," wasvery popular. Friends asked the two men to play the famous work.
At first George Gershwin refused. He did not think a harmonicashould play his beautiful song. But friends said they should play,so Mister Gershwin agreed. When they were done, George Gershwinpraised Larry Adler's playing. He said it sounded almost as if hehad written "Rhapsody in Blue" for Mister Adler and his harmonica.
Several years later, George Gershwin used a special device calleda recording piano to play and record "Rhapsody in Blue." After thefamous composer's death, Larry Adler often played the harmonica withthe recording piano of George Gershwin playing "Rhapsody in Blue."Mister Gershwin's sister attended one of the performances. Later,she told Mister Adler, "I could almost see him sitting there playingthe piano."
Listen as Larry Adler and George Gershwin play one of the mostfamous pieces of American music, "Rhapsody in Blue."
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Larry Adler appeared in movies, produced records and performedaround the world for many years. In Nineteen-Forty-Nine, he wasasked to appear before a congressional committee that wasinvestigating Americans who were members of the Communist Party.
Mister Adler was in Britain at the time. He refused to return tothe United States and appear before the committee. He made his homein Britain and did not return to the United States for many years.Larry Adler was not a Communist, but he could not take orders fromanyone, or any political party. The congressional committee had madehim angry. He said later that was why he refused to appear.
In recent years, Larry Adler became famous to a new group ofyoung people. He appeared with many famous young musicians. He alsointroduced the music of George Gershwin to younger audiences.
Larry Adler's musical career began at the age of fourteen inNineteen-Twenty-Eight. It ended with his death August Seventh,Two-Thousand-One. He was eighty-seven years old.
We leave you with Larry Adler playing another of GeorgeGershwin's famous works, "I Got Rhythm."
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This Special English program was written and produced by PaulThompson. I'm Doug Johnson.
And I'm Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for another PEOPLEIN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.
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