Monday, November 24, 2008

Jean Thomas and WLW

There was once a Folk Opera called "The Call of the Cumberlands" by Harrison Elliot. It was first presented at the American Folk Song Festival in Kentucky in 1935. An amateur ethnomusicologist Jean Thomas was there and supposing her own account is reliable, drove the piece into the broadcast stage. I wish I knew more.
"Even in it's unfinished form so well was the folk-opera received by the audience of tens of thousands at the festival that I felt impelled to approach the [NBC] officials in the interest of the youthful composers work. To my joy and surprise, at the insistence of Mr. Ernest LaPrade of the division of Music at NBC, I was commissioned to adapt the folk opera for production and act as narrator. Accordingly on August 24, 1935 the first folk opera our of the Kentucky mountains was presented over the network of NBC. through the facilities of station WLW, Cincinatti, Ohio..."
*In her text she wrote out National Broadcasting Company. I have abbreviated for space.

There is little in the way of 3rd party information here. I can confirm that Ernest LaPrade was a composer for NBC. He worked for NBC Blue on the Colliers Hours, the Music Appreciation Hour and The Shadow of Fu Manchu. he also was the man who made the last set of mechanical NBC chimes. Allow me to quote from OTB:
"Tests of the new Rangertone Chime indicated that it had many desirable features but had a tone quality quite different from the soft voiced Deegan chimes. This problem was referred to the music experts of NBC with the result that Ernest LaPrade, concert master for Walter Damrosch and the Music Appreciation Hour, was assigned to work with Roland Lynn of the NBC Laboratory to achieve satisfactory tone quality from the new chime machine. After many days of effort, since both men were perfectionists, a pleasing but distinctive tone quality was achieved. "
The Jean Thomas Collection lies in the hands of the University of Louisville Library. Her papers are cataloged here. Interestingly the catalog lists the opera, its music and other ephemera. But a single piece of paper stands out. It has the call letters WJZ on them, which seems to verify the claim of syndication. More here. She died in 1982 at the age of 101.