Seldom does a single note spark a smile like that from a kazoo.--One buzz of this little instrument and a person is likely to chuckle with delight.
On a recent business trip to Beaufort, South Carolina, I stopped into the home of Kazoobie Kazoosand The Kazoo Museum. I knew I would be in for a treat, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Kazoos have the distinction of being among the very few musical instruments with origins in the United States. Also included in this group are the banjo and the glass harmonica. While a bit of mystery surrounds its actual creation, legend has it that Alabama Vest conceived the kazoo and shared its concept with the German clockmaker, Thaddeus Von Clegg. Together they introduced it at the Georgia State Fair in 1852. It was met with great success and soon dubbed, “The Down South Submarine”.
In 1902, George D. Smith brought the idea north to Buffalo, New York. He opened the Great American Kazoo Company. For over 100 years, metal kazoos were in production there. Today, there are 3 major manufacturers of this instrument. This includes: Clarke Tinwhistles in Kent (England), The Kazoo Factory in Eden (New York), and Kazoobie Kazoos in Beaufort (South Carolina).
Because of their affordable nature over other instruments, they were soon found to be staples of blues and jug bands throughout the nation. The Mound City Blowers were among the first well-known kazoo-centric musical groups, recording their first kazoo hit, “Arkansas Blue” in 1924. Soon after, Jesse Fuller released, “San Francisco Bay Blues”, which would later be covered by Eric Clapton.
The quirky little sound found its way to Broadway in 1961 with the production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. The kazoo had established its place in entertainment history.
In the 1970’s, the kazoo experienced a resurgence of interest. Members of The Beetles, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, released their hit single, “You’re Sixteen”, which included the kazoo’s definable sound. Other rock music artists soon followed, including: Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
In the late eighties and nineties, kazoo technology experienced the development of the electric kazoo. Kazoobie Kazoos had a role in this progress. The instrument now had a means of amplification and modification of its unique sound.
While a stroll through the museum revealed most of this information, it was the enthusiasm of its “docents” who made it all come alive. A demonstration of the instrument's unique capabilities had the crowd of fellow patrons all giggling within seconds.
The instrument is composed of only three parts: 1) The body, 2) The turret, and 3) The resonator. The last formerly being made of cow and sheep stomachs, but now materializing as wax paper or plastic.
Kazoobie Kazoos makes the injection mold bodies and turrets in their own factory located in Florida. The parts are then received in their Beaufort headquarters where they are assembled with their pressure-cut resonators. It all takes place in a matter of seconds. I was allowed to watch and participate in the actual production of a kazoo.
Being of curious mind, I inquired what the most popular color might be (?) --Red. What is your busiest time of year? --November & December. Who is your most well-known customer(s)? --Comedienne Jimmy Fallon and actor Macaulay Culkin.
The little staff of 3 individuals was extremely friendly and enthusiastic about their product. I asked them if they enjoyed their job. Without hesitation, each replied with an affirmation and a near-giddy story of what their job means to them.
With the entire group of fellow patrons humming into their own kazoos, it was proof that they manufacture more than just kazoos at Kazoobie Kazoos. They also make smiles.---Lots of them.
I believe this little instrument will be buzzing for many years to come.