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The Accordion Americana Project

 


 I started telling the stories of accordionists in America, because I believe that people in most of the U.S. have forgotten this instrument or don’t know that it has been a part of our pioneer experience since the mid 1800’s.

Victorian accordionist

Victorian Accordionist c.1880

Since that time, from coast to coast, the accordion has been played by families and folks…. up in the mountains and down in the bayous…. in big cities and in small towns…. out in the country and beyond, to the vast deserts of the West.  In between, it kept them company along the way, on the Great Lakes and on the Great Plains, through the Rocky Mountains, to the Pacific Northwest.

     Brothers NYC 1900

Unknown duo         New York City, c.1900

The accordion was heard in music that emanated from our front porches, at weddings, at social gatherings, dances and as entertainment in theaters and taverns for over 150 years..

Some of the first to become proficient on the accordion in North America were African American slaves in the South, very soon after the instrument was invented and  brought from Europe

historical African American Accordionist

Unknown African American Accordionist 1870

It was played by artists who were immigrants….

PietroDeiro1920

Pietro Diero c. 1920

And by artists who were sons and daughters of  immigrants

Violaturpeinen

Viola Turpeinen c.1928

The accordion was present in live stage productions in Vaudeville

Father with Daughters Vaudeville 1920's

Father and daughter act   c.1920’s

And also heard in early recordings of Gospel, Blues and Boogie Woogie………

Huddy "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, the great Blues musician with accordion  c. 1930

Leadbelly, with accordion c.1930

 It was seen and heard in American Roots music……

Mother Maybelle, the Carter Sisters with Chet Atkins

Mother Maybelle, The Carter Sisters with Chet Atkins c. 1942

The first woman to play Bluegrass, professionally, was an accordion player….

Wilene "Sally Ann" Forrester with Bill Munro and his Bluegrass Boys 1947

Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester as a member of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys
1945

……. And an accordionist reinvented what was known as “Hillbilly Music”  and created the new “Country and Western” music. Pee Wee King helped to break this new ground and establish Nashville as its music capitol….

Pee Wee King V

The influential Pee Wee King, c. 1948

…….  The very cool Art Van Damme tirelessly toured the world for over 40 years and brought American made Jazz as performed on the accordion, to a wider audience.

Art_VanDamme3

Art Van Damme c. 1950

The accordion has been involved in the music scene and behind the scenes for  many decades, used by successful, professional musicians.

Dick Contino V

Dick Contino earned $4000 per week as a touring professional accordionist in 1950 at the age of 19 years old

Paul McCartney with Accordion

Paul McCartney not only performed with his accordion but used it as a tool for songwriting       c. 1964

179.-Garth-Hudson-The-Band-811C_25-copy

Garth Hudson backed up Bob Dylan on the accordion as a member of The Band  c.1968

Jon Hammond

Psychedelic Artist Jon Hammond c. 1971

Large_Nitty GrittyDirt Band_5

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had a big hit song in 1972 that featured the accordion, the now classic “Mr. Bojangles”

Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac c. 1980

“Tusk” performed by Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie, on accordion and Lindsay Buckingham c. 1980

NY Underground artist Phoebe Legere

Underground Performance Artist, Pheobe Legere uses the accordion in her work c. 1990’s

Regine

Pop Artist Regine Chassagne of Arcade Fire c. 2000’s

cory-pesaturo-i

Jazz Artist “C Pez” Cory Pesaturo             c. 2010’s

2012 was the “Comeback Year” for the piano accordion.

 2012 Grammy Award for Best Americana album, “Babel”, featuring the piano accordion, made Mumford and Sons a household name in North America

Ben Lovett with Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons with Ben Lovett

In 2012, out of the Phoenix Valley arose Arizona’s own homegrown band, KONGOS, who composed and recorded the most successful, piano accordion-based hit song of all time, “Come With Me Now”.  It shattered all records, blew everyone away, and earned Johnny Kongos and his brothers a world wide following.

Johnny Kongos

Johnny Kongos

  Also, 2012 was the year that Bill Haley’s group,  the Comets, along with Johnny Grande, was recognized by their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Bill Haley and the Comets with Johnny Grande c.1954

Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, co-founded by the late Danny Federici in New Jersey in 1969, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 2014.

Danny and Bruce

The late Danny Federici With “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen c.2008

The piano accordion continues to participate in Americana music, today.

Buxton

Buxton (Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff ,Mother Jones, Americana Music Awards, Nashville, 2016)

T H E  A C C O R D I O N  A M E R I C A N A  P R O J E C T 

Part I, Past and Present

The intentions of Accordion Americana are to present the accordion in the best possible light, to tell the stories of working accordionists, some well known and others seldom heard of, and to share their contributions to live and recorded music within the last fifty years. With a few special exceptions, the focus is on the piano accordion and the role that it has played in Americana music, from Roots, Country and Pop music to Blues and Jazz.

Part II, The Future

Our musical heritage is a critical link between all North Americans and it should not be taken for granted. I challenge accordion players to think outside “the box” and to take a musical journey. Capture our spirit and tell our stories. Inspire us by showing something new that has never been seen, nor heard on this instrument. Or teach us about the past, by going back to our roots.  As accordionists, instructors, authors, associations, societies, clubs or manufacturers, we have an obligation to promote the piano accordion in America and continue to reach out through the media, festivals and performances in all genres. We must be more responsible by not engaging in negative promotion, such as, all too often, referring to the accordion as though it has died–it has not!  We must stop “shaming” other accordionists because we don’t approve of their choices of music or their abilities.  Instead, we must empower and encourage all players of the instrument in North America, advocate for inclusion of the instrument, recognize those musicians and bands that use the accordion in their music and to promote the piano accordion as being alive and well and participating in music, today.

As players, we are the ones who have the power to allow Americans to reconnect with the piano accordion, once again. Only then will it be regarded as an option for the next generation of music makers.  Because, it is through them that this instrument has a chance to survive and participate in the new music that is yet to be composed and performed.

 

Always remember…..

It’s all about the music!

 

Leonard Bernstein’s introduction of Aaron Copeland says  it all. Please listen… 

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All the best!

Christa T.

Contact: christa@accordionamericana.com