Documentation suggests the kazoo was first patented by Warren Herbert Frost
The Original American Kazoo Company in Eden, NY began mass producing metal kazoos
Barbara Stewart founded Kazoophony, a five-person ensemble
Two longtime residents of Eden bought and began operating the Kazoo Boutique Gift Shop
“It is said that pigs might be able to learn how, if they could be persuaded to kazoo before they eat it.”
Barbara Stewart, Kazoo Virtuoso
The Original American Kazoo Company
While kazoos have their origin in instruments used for hundreds of years in Africa, they were first documented by a patent submitted by Warren Herbert Frost in 1883.* In 1916, the Original American Kazoo Company in Eden NY began mass manufacturing of metal kazoos using a manufacturing process, which is pretty much used through today. The Eden NY facility is now home to manufacturing, sales, and a museum.
The First Kazoos
Kazoos are instruments that allow the player to hum rather than blow into them. The membrane in the kazoo vibrates as air is blown in. The original membranes were made of sheep gut, and as Barbara Stewart, classical kazoo virtuoso explains, “The animal membranes when out of fashion. And the condom companies put them out of business and raised the prices so high, so now we make them out of paper, the same kind used in candy boxes so the saliva doesn’t disintegrate it.”
Why Would Anyone Play a Kazoo?
Numerous bands, musicians, and comedic groups have played kazoos. For example, in a 1921 recording by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, what sounds like a trombone solo is a kazoo solo. Leonard Bernstein, in his Mass**, composed a short segment for kazoo. Other notable kazoo-recording musicians include Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead, and Frank Zappa.
Barbara Stewart (1941-2011), a classically trained singer, composed for kazoo, written a book, and formed a quartet, Kazoophony, who performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. She single-handedly tried to make the kazoo the official instrument of America, but said, “We have been turned down by everybody, or at least ignored. President Nixon and Carter … So there’s bipartisan ignorance.”
* There are some who believe that Alabama Vest, an African American from Macon GA invented the kazoo around 1840.
** Mass was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy in the early 1970s.
Did You Know?
- You can purchase a Trombone kazoo, a Trumpet kazoo, or even a French Horn kazoo.
- A listener at Stewart’s kazoo concert at the Eastman School of Music said, “The highlight of the concert was its ending.”
Purchase Barbara Stewart’s book, The Complete How To Kazoo
Have a centennial suggestion? Let us know!