Harmonicas are...hooty, wheezy, twangy and tooty | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Harmonicas are...hooty, wheezy, twangy and tooty

They're from the Old Country, but there's nothing better for American music, from blues to honky-tonk and the fans are blown away

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 "A one-man band in the palm of your hand," the harmonica is considered by many to be the musical instrument of America. Although it's uncertain just who invented the instrument, commercial development of harmonicas began in the 1820s in a southwestern German village called Trossingen. The granddaddy of manufacturers, the Hohner Company, is headquartered there, and the town is the home of the Harmonica Museum and the quadrennial World Harmonica Championships. Other festivals include the Swiss Harmonica Festival and the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica championships.

By 1880, harmonicas had become especially popular in America and have since been used by groups like the Harmonicats and Borah Minevitch's Harmonica Rascals, and by individual performers, such as blues legend Sonny Terry, and Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen.

The virtuoso of harmonica virtuosi, however, is Larry Adler, now over 80. A favorite of the Gershwin brothers, he soloed classical works with major symphony orchestras and was once one of the highest-paid performers in America. The most far-out harmonicist, no doubt, is astronaut Wally Schirra. In 1965 he performed the first musical concert in space on a tiny harmonica.

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