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Waschon, Pierre. See Vachon, Pierre. Washboard band

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Waschon, Pierre.

See Vachon, Pierre.

Washboard band.

A black American instrumental group that uses a scraped idiophone in the form of a domestic washboard or ‘rub-board’ as a rhythm instrument. The board is played by drawing a nail, fork or thimbles over the corrugations to produce a loud, staccato rhythm. Cowbells, woodblocks and improvised metallophones were often attached to add tonal variety. Some washboard players placed two boards back-to-back and sat astride them while playing with both hands. Early washboard bands also included string instruments and were frequently augmented by other improvised instruments such as a washtub bass (probably derived from the African ground bow), comb-and-paper or kazoo as well as a harmonica. They are closely related to the children's ‘spasm bands’ of New Orleans; the one led by Stalebread Lacoume in 1897 was the best documented but it may not have included a washboard player. Typical performances by folk washboard bands are Diamond Ring (1930, Gen.) by Walter Taylor and the Washboard Trio, and Chasey Collins's Atlanta Town (1935, Bb).

Washboards were frequently used to accompany blues vocalists, and at least one singer, Washboard Sam (Robert Brown), played a washboard while taking vocal parts, as on his Rack 'em Back (1938, Bb) or Levee Camp Blues (1941, Bb). Almost alone among folk instruments the washboard was sometimes used by jazz bands, examples being Floyd Casey's crisp and forceful rhythms on numerous recordings by Clarence Williams, including Beer Garden Blues (1933, Voc.), and Jimmy Bertrand's driving accompaniments to Louis Armstrong with Erskine Tate's large Vendome Orchestra on Stomp Off, Let's Go (1926, Voc.). In the early 1930s the related groups of the Washboard Rhythm Kings and Washboard Serenaders recorded extensively, often with two trumpets and three reed instruments. In the 1950s the washboard was the favoured instrument of the ‘skiffle bands’, but its novelty soon declined and the instrument returned to the folk idiom of blues. In the postwar years zydeco bands frequently used washboards. The most recent development has been the wearing of a corrugated metal vest, played with thimbles. Cleveland Chenier was the most notable exponent of this technique, as on Zydeco et pas sale (1965, Arhoolie) by his brother, the accordion player Clifton Chenier.


H. Courlander: Negro Folk Music, U.S.A. (London, 1966), 207, 219

P. Oliver: ‘Jug and Washboard Bands’, Jazz on Record, ed. A. McCarthy (London, 1968), 332–4

T. Zwicky: ‘I'm Gonna Beat me some Washboard: the Washboard Rhythm Kings and Affiliated Groups 1930–35’, Storyville, no.19 (1968), 3–8; no.20 (1968–9), 47–51; no.22 (1969), 148–54

D. Evans: ‘Afro-American One-Stringed Instruments’, Western Folklore, xxix (1970), 229–45

J. Broven: The Music of the Cajun Bayous (Baton Rouge, LA, 1983)


Washburn, George.

A trademark of the Lyon & Healy Co. of Chicago, a musical merchandise business founded in 1864 by George Washburn Lyon and Patrick J. Healy. ‘George Washburn’ was applied to their better fretted instruments from about 1890. The Lyon & Healy Catalog of Musical Merchandise (Chicago, 1898) lists 28 different styles of ‘Washburn’ guitars at retail prices from $15 for the plainest standard instrument to $145 for a ‘No.399 Grand Concert Size’ with elaborate mother-of-pearl inlay. Mandolins, mandolas, banjos and zithers are also shown and, in a 1927 advertisement, ukuleles. In about 1928 the trade name ‘George Washburn’ and the musical merchandise activities other than piano and harp manufacture were acquired by the Tonk Bros. Co., which continued to sell instruments under the name into the 1930s. The Tonk Bros. Co. was acquired by C.G. Conn Ltd in 1947.

In 1973 the trade name and production inventory was purchased by Beckman Musical Instruments, the American distributor for the Japanese electronics firm Roland. It was again sold in 1976 to the Chicago firm Fretted Industries, Inc., which in 1978 announced the production in Japan of instruments bearing the Washburn name. After a reorganization in the 1980s the firm became known as Washburn International, marketing a wide range of guitars, other string instruments and sound equipment under the Washburn, Oscar Schmidt, Soundtech and Randall trade names. At the end of the 20th century most of the production was based in Korea, with some instruments at the top end of the range manufactured in the USA.


K. Achard: The History and Development of the American Guitar (London, 1979)

J. Teagle: The Washburn: Over One Hundred Years of Fine Stringed Instruments (New York, 1996)


Washington, DC.

Capital city of the USA. In the past Washington was less conspicuous as a musical centre than one might expect from a city of its importance, in part because of the lack of adequate performance facilities. Since World War II, however, the cultural life of Washington has grown significantly, and it has become one of the most active musical centres in the USA.

A unique aspect of Washington's musical life has always been the prominent role of the federal government. In the 20th century government funding, channelled through such organizations as the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, Wolf Trap Farm Park and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, has enriched the city's musical life. Another important, if unrecognized, element in the city's cultural life has been the prominent black American community. In the early 20th century Washington had the largest urban black American population in the country; the extensive middle- and upper-class black community gave the city the reputation of the ‘undisputed center of American Negro civilization’ (Green, 1962–3). Cultural and intellectual organizations supported by this other half of Washington – which (until the mid-20th century) were mostly separate and distinct from the parallel organizations of official Washington – had a significant impact on the musical life of the city.

1. Opera.

2. Choral music.

3. Concert life.

4. Military bands.

5. Vernacular traditions.

6. Libraries and educational institutions.


Washington, DC

1. Opera.

The earliest known musical theatrical works produced in Washington were ballad operas, performed in the first two decades of the 19th century by a Philadelphia troupe. The first European opera was Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia (in English), performed in 1836. Opera productions in the 1830s and 40s, mostly in the National Theatre, were of the standard bel canto repertory. In the second half of the century most of the dramatic fare in Washington consisted of operettas, musical comedies and grand opera. The latter were presented by various touring companies (including the Metropolitan Opera of New York); as early as 1872, however, a local black company was organized and mounted successful productions. In the 1880s and 90s serious opera was presented at Albaugh's Opera House, the Lafayette Square Opera House, the Academy of Music and the Columbia Theater.

In the earlier part of the 20th century there were local opera companies such as the Washington Community Opera (founded 1918; known as the Washington National Opera Association from 1923 to 1928) and the National Negro Opera Company (1943–62, with chapters in other cities). The most prominent opera company in modern Washington started in 1956 as the Opera Society of Washington, and performed for its first 15 years at the Lisner Auditorium of George Washington University (cap. 1500); renamed the Washington Opera, the company moved in 1971 into the Opera House of the Kennedy Center (cap. 2334). The directors have been Ian Strasfogel (1972–4), George London (1975–9), Martin Feinstein (1980–95) and Plácido Domingo (since 1995). The society eventually achieved an international reputation and grew dramatically; by the mid-1990s the season was expanded to 79 performances and popularity was at an all-time high. The Washington Opera mounts many of its own productions, has given several American and world premières and regularly engages prominent guest conductors. The company is supportive of younger artists and is committed to the performance of operas by American composers. Performances have also been given in two smaller halls at the Kennedy Center: the Eisenhower Theater (cap. 1100) and the Terrace Theater (513).

Washington, DC

2. Choral music.

One of the city's first choral societies was the Washington Sängerbund (founded 1851); still in existence, it is the city's oldest choir. Numerous other amateur (and mostly short-lived) choral organizations were active during the 19th century; these included the Washington Philharmonic Society (founded 1850), the Washington Choral Society (1869 – mid 1880s), the Wilheling Club (1886–9), the Apollo Glee Club, the Mozart Choral Society, the Harmony Club and others. Several important choral societies were also supported by the city's black American community, including the Amphion Glee Club (established in 1891), the Washington Permanent Chorus (founded 1899), the Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society (established in 1901) and the Burleigh Choral Society (1903).

The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys (of the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul) was once the city's principal choir (1912–37); the Cathedral Choral Society (founded 1942) is still associated with the cathedral. Four other large choral organizations (founded in the 1960s and 1970s) are active in the metropolitan area: the Paul Hill Chorale, the Oratorio Society of Washington, the Choral Arts Society and the University of Maryland Choir. Each presents concert seasons and most appear with the National SO. Several smaller choral groups, including the Norman Scribner Choir, the Washington Singers, the Wolf Trap Singers and the Washington Bach Consort, specialize in chamber repertory; there are also numerous community and collegiate groups. Other religious institutions that offer music are the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the National Presbyterian Church, St John's (in Lafayette Square) and the Washington Hebrew Congregation. Washington is also a significant centre for black gospel music, which is performed in many of the city's black churches, notably the Bibleway Baptist Church. Hundreds of gospel-music concerts are given each year in the area by nationally known touring groups and by local quartets and ensembles.

Washington, DC

3. Concert life.

Washington did not have a recital hall until 1925, when the Coolidge Auditorium (cap. 500), constructed under the auspices of the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation, opened in the Library of Congress. The auditorium, which was closed from 1988 to 1997 for renovation, is an ideal setting for chamber music. Symphonic music was first accommodated in the city's theatres and at Constitution Hall (cap. 3811). In 1971 the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts was opened, filling a long-acknowledged vacuum in the cultural life of the capital. In addition to the Opera House, the Eisenhower Theater and the Terrace Theater, the centre features a Concert Hall (cap. 2448) and the American Film Institute Theater, all adjoining a grand foyer (see illustration). The concert hall was completely renovated between 1996 and 1997 as the first stage of a projected ten-year renovation of all of the centre's performing spaces. One of the nation's busiest performing arts complexes, each year the Kennedy Center presents approximately 2800 performances for audiences of nearly two million.

Attempts to found a permanent symphony orchestra in Washington were not made until the early 20th century. The Washington SO, which performed in the National Theatre, was established (1902–5) through the efforts of Reginald De Koven; the ensemble was reactivated for several seasons (1909–12). During this time Washington regularly hosted visiting orchestras from other cities that performed in local theatres. The National SO began its career in 1931 with a concert at Constitution Hall under the direction of Hans Kindler, who was succeeded by Howard Mitchell (in 1949), Antal Dorati (1970) and Mstislav Rostropovich (1977); in 1996 Leonard Slatkin took over as the music director of the orchestra. Since 1971 the ensemble has performed in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The Gallery Orchestra (founded 1943) presents free concerts in the summer in the National Gallery of Art. The ensemble includes choral and chamber works in its series and has given world premières of approximately 1000 compositions (primarily by American composers) and Washington premières of several thousand works. Richard Bales founded the orchestra and served as conductor until 1985; he was succeeded by George Manos.

The Kennedy Center sponsors a large number of concert and chamber music series, hosts ballets and opera companies and visiting orchestras, and sponsors various award competitions, including the Friedheim Awards (since 1978) and the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition (founded 1986). The American Ballet Theatre (Mikhail Baryshnikov, director) also performs in the Opera House. The Washington Performing Arts Society (founded in 1965), the city's largest independent concert-promoting organization, also arranges concerts at the Kennedy Center by internationally renowned performers.

The Library of Congress has been in the forefront of chamber music activity in Washington; after a nine-year hiatus while the Coolidge Auditorium was undergoing renovation, the library re-established its weekly free concert series in late 1997. The Juilliard String Quartet has been the quartet-in-residence since 1962, and performs on the five Stradivari instruments in the library's collection. Since 1981 the Beaux Arts Trio has also been affiliated with the library. The library also sponsors various concerts, series and festivals, generally built around a particular theme or composer whose manuscripts are in the library's collections; in recent years the events have become increasingly diverse and include performances of classical and popular music, jazz, American musical theatre and dance.

The Division of Cultural Hisory, part of the Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution, has one of the largest instrument collections in the world. Many of the instruments are used in the Smithsonian's concerts, reflecting an interest in fostering authentic performances. Ensembles supported by the Smithsonian, including the Smithsonian Chamber Players, the Castle Trio, the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra, the Smithson String Quartet and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, perform in the Hall of Musical Instruments (cap. 300) or in Baird Auditorium (850). The Smithsonian also sponsors concerts of popular or traditional music, instrument demonstrations, performances of musical theatre and numerous other concerts and symposia.

There are numerous concert series in the metropolitan area, held at various churches, museums and government facilities. The Corcoran Gallery of Art sponsors performances by the Contemporary Music Forum (founded 1974), and by the Cleveland and Tokyo string quartets, which utilize the gallery's Stradivari and Amati instruments. Other series of chamber music are presented by the 20th Century Consort (founded in 1977), in residence at the Hirshorn Museum; the Emerson String Quartet (1978), at the Renwick Gallery; the Romantic Chamber Ensemble; the Theater Chamber Players; and the Folger Consort (in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library since 1977).

There are numerous music festivals held in Washington throughout the year, including the American Music Festival at the National Gallery of Art, the longest-running American music festival. In addition, free concerts proliferate in Washington during the summer months, made possible largely through federal grants: amateur groups from all over the country perform on the Ellipse south of the White House and on the steps of the Capitol during the summer; the National SO performs occasionally on the Capitol lawn and in the city's parks; big-band concerts are held at the Washington Monument; and folk, Irish, country and popular music can be heard at the C & O Canal National Historical Park. In 1971 the US Department of the Interior opened the Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts, the only such national park in the USA. Located about 32 km west of the city, Wolf Trap has two performing spaces: the Filene Center (cap. 7024, including the lawn) and The Barns, seating 352.

Washington, DC

4. Military bands.

During the 19th century martial music was particularly important to Washington. The US Marine Band (founded 1799) was the city's first musical organization; from 1880 to 1892 it was conducted by John Philip Sousa, a Washington native. The band was an important and ubiquitous presence in Washington musical life during the second half of the 19th century and for the first part of the 20th. Official ceremonies, parades, national holidays, dedications and similar public events have reinforced the importance of bands in Washington. Free concerts by the Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force or other military bands can be heard almost every evening during the summer around Washington. In no other city in the USA can so many band performances be heard on such a regular basis.

Washington, DC

5. Vernacular traditions.

The prosperous black American community of the late 19th- and early 20th-century Washington produced several prominent musicians who championed the black musical traditions of ragtime, syncopated music, black musical theatre and gospel. Included among these composer/peformers are Will Marion Cook, James Reese Europe, Ford Dabney and, most importantly, Edward (Duke) Ellington. Starting in the 1920s and extending through the 1950s and 60s, the spacious Lincoln and Howard theatres functioned as musical magnets in Washington's black American community, hosting the best of touring bands, orchestras and other ensembles, and attracting audiences of thousands from the black community.

Washington has also been an important nexus for bluegrass and country music since the 1940s and 1950s, and as early as the 1930s the city became a centre for the collection and study of American folk and traditional music. The Library of Congress's Archive of American Folk Song (established 1928) began in the 1930s to sponsor large-scale recording expeditions, mainly to the south, that produced important recordings of traditional performers and early jazz artists and valuable oral history accounts. In 1981 the archive was renamed the Archive of Folk Culture; it is one of the most significant collections of American folklife documents, manuscripts and recordings in the world. Other folklife establishments are also associated with the city: since 1949 the headquarters for the National Council for the Traditional Arts has been located in Washington, and every year since 1967 the Smithsonian Institution has held the popular Festival of American Folklife, which features the music and folk traditions of several different (American and world) cultural groups.

Since the 1970s there has been a dramatic growth in the music of various ethnic groups in the city, including salsa and other styles from Latin America and the Caribbean, Irish music, and the indigenous musical styles associated with Ethiopians (especially since 1981), Indo-Chinese (particularly Vietnamese and Cambodians) and Salvadorans. In the mid-1970s an indigenous Washington popular music style called go-go emerged in the black American community. Chuck Brown is an early artist associated with the style; from the mid-1980s several other bands, notably Experience Unlimited, emerged and attained some degree of national recognition.

Numerous halls regularly offer various types of popular and folk music concerts. Among these are two summer facilities, the Carter Barron Amphitheater in Rock Creek Park (cap. 4251) and the Merriweather Post Pavilion (cap. 5000 under the roof and 5000 on the lawn) in Columbia, Maryland, which draws heavily from Washington for its audiences. In late 1997 the Capital Center (renamed US Air Arena, cap. 18,756) in nearby Landover, Maryland, was augmented by the MCI Center (cap. 20,600, located in downtown Washington) as a major popular music performing space. The city's Convention Center (opened 1982) has two halls (cap. 3000 and 10,000) available for concert use. Musicals are presented in the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center, the National, Warner and Ford's theatres, the Arena Stage and at numerous suburban theatres. In 1990 George Mason University in Fairfax County, Virginia, opened a new centre for the arts; the facility includes a concert hall (cap. 2000) and the Harris Theater (521), classrooms, rehearsal halls and a studio. A similar facility, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, is being constructed on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park and is due to open in 2001.

Washington, DC

6. Libraries and educational institutions.

The Music Division of the Library of Congress was established in 1897, and has become the largest and most influential music library in the USA, with more than six million items in its collections. In addition to its Stradivari instruments, the library also owns the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection, the largest collection of flutes in the world. The Archives Center of the Smithsonian Institution has acquired several extremely important music collections related to American music, including the Duke Ellington Collection, the Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music and the Ella Fitzgerald Collection. Important music collections and research materials are also maintained by the Martin Luther King, jr, Library of the District of Columbia, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the National Archives and various other libraries.

There are eight large universities in the greater Washington area, and all offer degrees in music; six of the schools are located within the city. A conservatory was established at Howard University (founded in 1867) in 1913, and eventually became the university's school of music. In 1960 the school merged with the departments of art and drama to become the College of Fine Arts; it offers bachelor's and master's degrees in music. In 1965 the Division of Music of the Catholic University of America (founded 1887) became the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees; the school also runs a summer opera theatre company. George Washington University (founded in 1821 as Columbian College and renamed in 1904) established a music department in 1961 and offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees in music. In 1966 the American University (founded 1893) opened the new Kreeger Music Building, which houses the department of performing arts; a separate music programme was established within that department in 1977 offering bachelors and masters degrees. The University of the District of Columbia (established 1976) offers undergraduate music degrees. Georgetown University will offer a BA in music starting in 2001; since 1999 the Center for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM), formerly at the University of Southampton (UK), has been located at Georgetown. Music programmes are also offered at the nearby George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and the University of Maryland in College Park.

As the nation's capital, Washington is (or has been) home to several national music organizations that have funding programmes or grant awards to composers, performers, scholars, students and cultural organizations, including the American Symphony Orchestra League, the Music Educators National Conference (now in nearby Reston, Virginia), the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Institute for Music Theater. The National Association of Schools of Music is based in Reston, Virginia.


F.J. Metcalf: ‘History of Sacred Music in the District of Columbia’, Records of the Columbia Historical Society, xxviii (1926), 175–202

M.G. Sewell: ‘Washington and its Musical History’, Music Teachers National Association: Proceedings, xxvii (1932), 35–44

J.C. Haskins: Music in the District of Columbia, 1800 to 1814 (thesis, Catholic U. of America, 1952)

C.M. Green: Washington: Capital City, 1879–1950 (Princeton, NJ, 1962–3)

M.R. Rogers: ‘Constitution Hall and the Growth of the National Symphony’, Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, xcvii/1 (1963), 10, 38 only

W.M. Koehn: ‘The Friday Morning Music Club of Washington’, Records of the Columbia Historical Society, lxvi–lxviii (1966–8), 191–204

R.W. Logan: Howard University: the First Hundred Years, 1867–1967 (New York, 1969)

G. Gelles: ‘The Growing Up of the Opera Society’, The Washingtonian, vii/9 (1972), 56–9

The Music Division in the Library of Congress (Washington DC, 1960, 2/1972 as The Music Division: a Guide to its Collections and Services)

P. Hume: ‘Acres for the Arts’, ON, xxxviii/26 (1973–4), 22–5

R.W. Dirksen: Music at Washington Cathedral (Washington DC, 1974)

B. Artis: ‘Newgrass and the Country Gentleman: the Washington Sound’, Bluegrass (New York, 1975), 107

C. Jahant: ‘Washington's Opera Houses’, The Ring, ii/3 (1975), 11–13; iii/1 (1975), 5–7, 16 only; iii/2 (1976), 17–21

B. Gill: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (New York, 1981)

F.H. Pierce: The Washington Saengerbund (Washington DC, 1981)

K. Preston: John Prosperi and Friends: Professional Musicians in Washington, 1877–1900 (thesis, U. of Maryland, 1981)

D. McGinty: ‘The Black Presence in the Music of Washington, DC, 1843–1904’, More than Dancing: Essays on Afro-American Music and Musicians, ed. I.V. Jackson (Westport, CT, 1985)

E.K. Kirk: Music at the White House (Urbana, IL, 1986)

D. McGinty: ‘Aspects of Musical Activities in the Black Communities of Baltimore and Washington, DC’, Black Music Research Bulletin, xi/2 (1989), 10–12

D. McGinty: ‘Black Women of Washington DC, 1900–1920’, New Perspectives on Music: Essays in Honor of Eileen Southern, ed. Josephine Wright (Warren, MI, 1992), 409–61

K.K. Preston: Music for Hire: a Study of Professional Musicians in Washington, 1877–1900 (Stuyvesant, NY, 1992)

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