When I visited Buffalo, NY I was given a souvenir kazoo. Since 1912, they’ve been the promised land of kazoo making. Well, technically it’s the tiny town of Eden, just south of Buffalo, that is home to the Original American Kazoo Company.
Just to be safe, I will back it up here and explain what a kazoo is. (they don’t always teach this important stuff in schools, ya know) It’s an instrument. About four inches long. Looks kinda like a submarine. You hum (don’t blow) in one end so a little piece of wax paper will buzz.
Interesting to note, it’s technically classified as a membranophone, which other than the kazoo is a group entirely made up of drums. The fact is the kazoo is really a wax paper drum, but instead of hitting it the vibration is produced by your humming.
While the kazoo as we know it is an American invention (circa 1840s in Georgia) the concept goes back much, much further. The ancient ancestor of the kazoo, called a mirliton, goes back to the dawn of human kind.
A hollowed bone or horn with a hole in the middle would replace the plastic tube, and a skin or… get this… spider egg sac membrane(!) would take the place of wax paper. It’s original use was for special effects. The shaman would use it to create the unusual sound of other-worldly voices in religious ceremonies.
We’ve come a long way from that to this…
[wpaudio url=”http://www.archive.org/download/TheMoundCityBlueBlowers-ArkensasBlues/TheMoundCityBlueBlowers-ArkensasBlues.mp3″ text=”The Mound City Blowers – Arkensas Blues”]
This recording by The Mound City Blowers from 1923 was the first ever to include a kazoo, and it sold a million copies.
Since the 20s, nobody has given the kazoo much credit. Despite it’s mystical roots, it’s now relegated to the realm of a toy. The most action it’s seen in the last century was with a special appearance on Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” album.