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The American Accordionists’ Association turns 80!!

Joan Grauman Morse, AAA HistorianIn March of 2018, the American Accordionists’ Association (AAA) will turn 80 years old. We hope to see all of you this summer in beautiful Alexandria, Virginia, where we will celebrate this special milestone! As the organization’s historian, I will be writing monthly articles on events that led up to the creation of the AAA, some of its influential members, as well as special events throughout the decades, and more.

Here is the first one. Happy New Year, everyone!
Joan Grauman Morse, AAA Historian

What Events Led to the Formation of the American Accordionists’ Association?

“When the musical history of our times comes to be written, one chapter will stand head and shoulders above all others in point of interest and importance, and that chapter will deal with the growth of the accordion movement during the last four years!”
Accordion News, October 1937

In the 1930s, when one reflects on these years, two things immediately come to mind: the Great Depression and the emergence of the radio. By 1932, the radio dominated mass media throughout the industrial nations.

The piano accordion, still in its “infancy”, had been a huge hit in Vaudeville for many years. The accordions in the 1920s were filled with rhinestones and other ornamentation to “wow” the Vaudeville show audiences. When the radio became the rage – a new, inexpensive form of entertainment at a time when money was scarce – Vaudeville simply died out.

The Vaudeville accordion stars were soon hired by the radio stations. By the late 1930s, one could hear accordions playing on the live radio programs all over the country. Many of the founders of the AAA performed weekly on the radio (these founders were all working in New York City):

The video below is Joan Grauman’s workshop on the same topic
presented at the 2017 AAA Festival in Princeton, New Jersey.
(Video duration: 30 minutes). Thanks to Peter Sbuttoni
and Dan Grauman for the video.

Charles Magnante
Charles Magnante: CBS, NBC – four programs weekly
Pietro Frosini: WOR, “John Gambling’s Musical Clock” – daily except Sunday
John Gart: WJZ – four programs weekly
Joe Biviano: NBC, WOR, CBS – three programs weekly
Charles Nunzio: WOR – three programs weekly

While long distance calls to other accordionists were pretty much unheard of, and long letters were few and far between, musicians from all over the US and Canada would meet annually in Chicago for the Music Trades Convention, where discussions on “everything accordion” would take place day and night.

These performers and educators (listed above) were busy arranging music for the radio programs, plus they were teaching, performing outside of the studios, composing solos and band pieces for accordion, and writing accordion instruction books.

Yet, these five men, along with seven other giants in the music world (all from the New York City area) -- Pietro Deiro, Anthony Galla-Rini, Byron Streep, Sidney Dawson, Abe Goldman, Gene Von Hallberg and Sam Rowland – were passionate about the new instrument they had grown to love and to master: the piano accordion.

Sam Rowland, who had founded the American Drummers’ Association, suggested that they form a new national organization for the accordion, headquartered in New York City. Thus, the AmericanAccordionists’ Association was established, holding its first meeting on March 9, 1938.
Picture above of AAA Founders: Front row: Pietro Frosini, Abe Goldman, Sydney Dawson
Center row: Anthony Galla-Rini, Charles Magnante, Pietro Deiro Sr., Charles Nunzio
Back row: Gene Von Hallburg, Joe Biviano
Not in photo: John Gart, Sam Rowland, Byron Streep

The "Minutes of the First Meeting" of the AAA are on the AAA website at:
First Meeting
AAA First ConstitutionPicture left: Link to AAA First Constitution. This has been preserved from the original meeting complete with hand written alterations and changes. First Constitution

Also preserved is the printed First AAA Articles of Association ca 1938. This was printed in small booklet format with a green cover.

Why create this organization? The ideas were flowing and excitement was at an all-time high for the new instrument. “What can we do to make the accordion boom last?” was asked and discussed at each meeting.

First on the agenda was to develop standards of notation for the bass in sheet music for the accordion. Up until this time, some composers wrote out the basses in the treble clef, some used full chords, some used numbers for chords, while others used letters, and so on.

AAA original logo Picture left of original AAA logo.

The AAA Standardized Notation, using one note for chords with letter designations, was created and was required for all accordion music printed in the US. The AAA founders, and a rapidly growing group of new members, recognized the need for more original music for the accordion, better instruction and instructional manuals and, most of all, they were determined to elevate the status of the piano accordion in the music world to that of a serious instrument.

The first AAA president, Pietro Deiro (known as the “Daddy of the Accordion”) lectured and wrote articles for music publications such as Metronome, Etude Magazine, and the Accordion World for decades. Charles Magnante, Sidney Dawson, Anthony Galla-Rini and Joe Biviano also wrote for these publications regularly with topics from “How to be a better radio accordionist” to “Accordions in public schools”.

Many excellent articles by these founders can be found in the aforementioned publications from the 1930s and early 1940s.

So many of the early pioneers in the AAA dedicated their entire lives to this instrument, and worked tirelessly and passionately for the advancement of the accordion.

While many of the concerns we, in the AAA, have to this day about the acceptance and popularity of the instrument are the same as they were in the 1930s, one thing remains the same and likely always will: the versatile accordion is intensely loved and cherished by those who play it!!

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