by Manfred Wewers
Click on the links to see the photos.
Earl Collins Jr. (1924-1988), a harmonica player and Ford employee, in Dearborn, Michigan, had a vision (page 1, page 2, page 3) to form an organization for harmonica players. He found more like-minded people at Ford, after all, Henry Ford (1863-1947) was a harmonica player, and also ran ads in his local newspapers in the Motor City area, looking for others. This was the birth of the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH). On December 27, (page 1, page 2) the first SPAH meeting and concert was held in the Ford Central Office Building Auditorium, provided by the Ford Motor Company. About 150 people attended (Harmonica Happenings 22.3: 3). The Harmonicats performed for those who attended, including present-day SPAH member Eugene Hansen (l-r: Eugene Hansen & Bob McFarlane).
This is the story of "Big John". Built in 1932 by Larry Stagg (l-r:Larry Stagg & Vince Melosky) and Bill Forsyth, it was brought to SPAH in 1963 and made the local Detroit news (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3). Then "Big John" went nationwide, flying to New York (l-r:Earl Collins, Larry Stagg, Gordon Mitchell, Dennis Paperd, Ginny & Vince Melosky) and appearing on Apr. 8, 1963, on Gary Moore's I've Got a Secret and at the Hohner Company (l-r:Earl Collins, Dennis Paperd, Ginny Melosky, Gordon Mitchell, Larry Stagg & Vince Melosky). By 1967, "Big John" had travelled to Toronto for a CanSPAH gathering where it was played by a SPAH group (l-r.: Vince Melosky, Richard Harris, Chuck Moll, Ginny Melosky, Gordon Mitchell & Al Fogel). Vince Melosky (l-r:Vince Melosky & Earl Collins) acquired "Big John" in 1975. Where is it now? Hopefully, another harmonica-loving home like this one was.
It was also a big year for SPAH, starting with a meeting on Jan. 20, to discuss SPAH's future incorporation (page 1, page 2). On October 23, SPAH became SPAH Inc. Along with Earl Collins, the co-founders and co-signers of the incorporation documents were Gordon Mitchell (1927-2001) and Richard Harris (1938-2015). Prior to the age of emails, mailing lists (page 1, page 2) and letters from the President of SPAH (page 1, page 2) to the membership were constant requirements in order to move the organization forward. As the membership grew, SPAH divided itself in Chapters, based on geographical boundaries, making it easier for members to attend meetings. Each Chapter had individuals responsible for local administration and events (page 1, Page 2), including holding Chapter meetings, keeping minutes (page 1, page 2, page 3) and sponsoring shows. The Lincoln Park Chapter hosted a SPAHtacular on Dec 10. The 1st prize for the draw, 15 lbs. of silver dollars, would be worth about $3,500.00 today. On Nov. 1, SPAH's Board of Directors presented a concert featuring the Harmoni-Kings (l-r: Hank Graham, Gene Broglie & Bob Bauer). Here they are at rehearsal.
Earl Collins gets more newspaper coverage.
On Mar. 21, SPAH presented a concert of SPAH talent. The program (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) included included Vince Melosky, Eugene Hansen and Fred Stowers. And SPAH continued to grow as the Chapters were formalized (Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 6). Further growth came from north of the US border. CanSPAH, the Canadian branch of SPAH, was created on Sept.1. The certified document, a Declaration of Business, #55142, was signed by Maurice Godfrey (1913-1984), the founder and Administrator of CanSPAH and was registered in the County of York, Ontario. Fred Mather (1910-1999) became the Honorary President of CanSPAH while Bob Ferguson (1933-2017) took on the President role. Soon thereafter, on Nov. 13, CanSPAH held its first harmonica concert in a Toronto high school. The St. Kevin School Harmonica Band, led by Bob Ferguson, performed, as did SPAH's Harmonicasuals (l-r:Gordon Mitchell, Richard Harris & Earl Collins).
Both SPAH and CanSPAH members attended the April 23, SPAH show, April Shower of Harmonica Artistry (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4), at the Dondero High School Auditorium in Royal Oak, Michigan. The SPAH Board of Directors and the Chapter members were busy setiing up shows or working on ways to advance the harmonica. The Northside Chapter met on Apr. 26 (page 1, page 2) and Jul. 26 (page 1) keeping minutes of the meetings. To help new members with their harmonica and music skills, lesson packages were developed to be handed out. CanSPAH hosted An Evening of Harmonica Stylings (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) on Nov. 12 in Toronto that was well attended by SPAH members.