At one point in my life, I lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Kalamazoo is located in southern, central Michigan, midway between Detroit and Chicago. Before moving there for a new job, I had heard of the town’s name in the lyrics of numerous songs but didn’t know much about it, even though I grew up in nearby Illinois. At this point, you might be wondering why I’m writing about Kalamazoo in a blog about kazoos. Are the even connected? Don’t worry I’m about to reveal it all.
The Kalamazoo-Kazoo Connection
The city of Kalamazoo got its name in 1836 from a Potawatomi word, “Ki-ka-ma-sung,” believed to mean “boiling water.” Legends have suggested that the term refers to a footrace run to the time it takes a pot to boil (I wonder if they had someone watch the pot to keep it from boiling, as in “a watched pot never boils”). But it might also be attributed to otter tails, the mirage or reflecting river, or the fog that rose above the river.
It was in Kalamazoo that I was introduced to the musical instrument, the kazoo. At the time, I assumed it had been developed in Kalamazoo. After all, the nickname for Kalamazoo was K’zoo. However, I soon learned other than similar names, the kazoo has nothing to do with Kalamazoo.
For those of you unfamiliar with the kazoo, the submarine-shaped instrument adds a buzzing quality to the player’s voice through a vibrating membrane. The player vocalizes into the kazoo for the pitches. You don’t need any musical ability to play the kazoo, merely the ability to hum a tune.
The Connection Ends There
Herbert Frost was awarded the original patent for the kazoo on January 9, 1883. But the modern kazoo was patented by George D. Smith of Buffalo, NY, in 1902. Nowhere near Michigan.
But wait, surely kazoos were manufactured in Michigan, at least, right? Nope. The Original American Kazoo Company started manufacturing metal instruments in Eden, New York in 1916. The manufacturing plant is still in operation today, but changed its name to The Kazoo Factory.
How about the Kazoo Parade? Is that held in Kalamazoo? Nope again, the parade is in Nazareth, PA. The Kazoo Museum is located in Beaufort, SC.
Does Kalamazoo honor the kazoo in any way? There’s the Kazoo School (with no classes on how to play the kazoo), Kazoo Books (an independent, locally owned bookstore), and Krazy for the Kazoo, the annual river cleanup event.
Even though Kalamazoo (K’zoo) doesn’t celebrate the kazoo, you can recognize this musical instrument’s 200-year history on January 28th. You may select a metal version or one of the colorful plastic ones. If you can hum or sing, you can become a kazoo virtuoso. Join up with your friends and fellow musicians to form a kazoo orchestra. Let the buzzing begin!