[Harp-L] Artist Thomas Benton - His Harmonica History?

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Blunt White

Sep 19, 2018, 10:40:29 AM9/19/18
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Greetings - I've been asked to play harmonica at an Art Show opening of Thomas Benton's works (Benton is famous for murals/paintings depicting American life in late 1800's and early 1900's). Benton was also a harmonica player and released an album in 1941 called Saturday Night at Tom Benton's (it's on iTunes). I'll be performing with some other artists, guitar, fiddle etc. An art historian will be speaking about his art. Does anyone have a story about his harmonica? Was there a particular song he liked, if so I would to play it. I want to do right with this opportunity. Thank you
Blunt White
Stonington CT, USA

Harpin' J.Scott

Sep 19, 2018, 10:48:36 AM9/19/18
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He seemed to favor early American folk tunes. Particularly "Old Joe Clark",
"My Horses Ain't Hungry", and " Buffalo Gals".
Great website for more info here:

Best of luck!

philharpn--- via Harp-L

Sep 20, 2018, 3:01:44 AM9/20/18
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I stopped at Tom Benton's house/museum about 10 years ago (???) while in St. Louis for a SPAH convention. I inspected Benton's chromatic harmonica collection (12 holes) and his harmonica notation. He used a tablature system of numbers and arrows-- now a very common tablature for diatonic and chromatic. I don't know if he was the first to use the system-- but it probably was not very common when he used. ALSO, there would not be very many harmonica books when Benton started out. He started on the diatonic harp and later switched to the chromatic. Somebody from the Benton museum showed up at SPAH to give a talk and only about three people attended the talk. Which means the chromatic crowd didn't have a clue who Tom Benton was and/or didn't care to learn. I think I learned about Benton from Phil Duncan, the Mel Bay harmonica author.

The web account says he bought a more expensive harmonica to play half-notes; wrong term. The chromatic allows half-steps -- which means flats and sharps (the black keys of the piano). There are no "missing notes" like on the diatonic. The C chromatic can play in any key -- like the piano.

If you contact the Benton house/museum you could probably get a list of the tunes he played and tabbed out and/or the songs on the 78 rpm records he recorded. I'm sure I must have written something for American Harmonica Newsletter at the time -- but that was on a PC computer. I'm now using a Mac and there is no electronic index.

The 1941 three-record 78 rpm album would have 6 songs if it one song on each side of each record. Benton must of used a swing rhythm to play the tunes because the rest of the musicians on session couldn't follow him until he took his shoe off and they could follow the beat of his shoeless foot.

Here is the links for the Benton home and studio state historic site


There is Teachers Guide

A video of actor portraying Benton <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVM8hJuuOqo>

Hope this helps

John Jordan

Sep 27, 2018, 7:11:43 AM9/27/18
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Where is the show you are playing? I can't help, but glad you posted this,
he's one of my favorite artists and I had no idea he played harmonica. So

On Thu, Sep 20, 2018 at 2:01 AM philharpn--- via Harp-L <har...@harp-l.org>

John Jordan

Sep 27, 2018, 7:11:44 AM9/27/18
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And reading further, he is credited with the "tabs" notation that many/most
use today. Maybe common knowledge, but new to me and very interesting.
This page at the Country Music Hall of Fame is interesting as well.

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