Re: [Harp-L]Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton recorded a 78 rpm album consisting of 3 double-sided 78 
rpm discs titled   "Saturday Night at Tom Benton's" in the fall of 1941. This 
means 6 tunes.

Tom Benton had at least two Hohner chromatic   harmonicas (I saw them at his 
Kansas City home on the way home from SPAH 2005). The harmonicas and some of 
Tom's harmonica "sheet music" were in Tom's painting studio, which I think had 
once been a carriage house.   Tom's home is now a museum, looking like it 
appeared when he lived there. A copy of the record album sits on the piano. I 
asked   Steve Sitton, who was then the administrator of the Thomas Hart Benton 
home if there were any plays to reissue the album and he said there were none. 

To my knowledge, the album was only issued in the 78 rpm format. "Thomas Hart 
Benton: An American Original by Henry Adams (Knopf, 1989) has a postage-stop 
size b & w photo of the album cover which only lists the performers, not the 
tunes. The caption says the project was a three-record set. The fourth revised 
edition of "An Artist in American," Benton's autobiography was published in 
1983 (Benton died in 1975 and was involved in the 2nd and 3rd editions.)

In the chronology, Benton says: "Made an   album of flute, harmonica, and 
voice with son Thomas P., an accomplished flutist, and Frank Luther's singers for 
Decca records, "Tom Benton's Saturday Night" (sic) Music based on American 
folk songs, especially composed for album."

The SPAH seminar "Thomas Hart Benton Folk Artist and Harmonica Player" 
presented   by Steve Sitton, site administrator for the Thomas Hart Benton Home and 
Studio State Historic Site" suffered from an embarrassing lack of attendance 
-- I remember less than 5 counting me. I remember thinking at the time that I 
had never seen an event so poorly attended during more than 15 years of 
attending SPAH conventions. I could understand people not knowing who Benton was, but 
he WAS identified as a harmonica player in the SPAH schedule.

Benton couldn't read music or if he could, he couldn't make the connection 
with the chromatic harmonica. SO what he did was use a series of numbers and 
arrows to indicate if the note was a blow note or a draw note and when to push 
the button.   The album was recorded in 1941, so Benton was using his arrow 
system long before that. Because the idea for the album was based on the fact that 
Benton used to have musician friends show up at his house and perform on 
Saturday nights. He also used to play harmonica with his wife on guitar and son on 

Some people credit Tom Benton with inventing the arrow and number system of 
harmonica tablature. (He never published his "arrangements" that I could 
determine.) I don't know if this is true or not, but I have copies of early 
harmonica books (as well as contemporary books) that use all sorts of convoluted forms 
of tablature that are more difficult to read than the arrow system. Nowadays, 
the number arrow tab is quite common. It's easy to write, put a slash on the 
arrow to indicate bends. 

Back in 2005, when I went to the Benton house, and saw the tunes, I might 
have known what the tunes on the album were. But I haven't seen my notes in years 
and memory fails because I haven't throught about this in years. 

Phil Lloyd

In a message dated 1/22/08 12:39:53 PM, turtlehill@xxxxxxxxxxxxx writes:

> Benton recorded at least one LP (33 1/3 RPM) of light modern classical
> pieces, including "Gay Head Dances" (Gay Head being a place on or near
> Cape Cod, as opposed to a declaration of sexual preferences or
> activities--this was the 1950s, after all).  I think the LP was called
> "Saturday Night at the Bentons", or some such title.  I have no doubt
> that it is long out of print.
> I played the same pieces as part of a concert series on Cape Cod in
> 1978-79, and they are not easy.  I had to modify some of the lines to
> make my execution more musical (specifically, a broken C# diminished
> arpeggio--not easy to hit all those jumps legato at speed).  On the
> recording, Benton apparently hits them without fuss.  So he had some
> facility, which means he played frequently.  Whether or not he was a
> harmonica virtuoso, he loved the harmonica.
> Regards, Richard Hunter
> harmonica blog at
> Latest mp3s always at
> ndavid.coulson@xxxxxxxxxxxxx wrote:
> > Have you heard him play? Are there any existing recordings of his
> > playing? In his autobiography he talks about his harmonica orchestra,
> > for which he recruited players from his painting assistants. It would be
> > cool if there were recordings of that!
> >
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