Today is the birthday of William “Red” McKenzie (1899-1948). Originally from St. Louis, he became a prominent Jazz Age figure by playing the kazoo and comb-and-tissue paper!
In 1923, with musical partner Jack Bland, McKenzie formed the Mound City Blue Blowers. McKenzie played comb, Bland played banjo, Dick Slevin played kazoo, and Frank “Josh” Billings played percussion (often whisk brooms struck against a suitcase). They cut several hit records, made two performance films, and were popular in vaudeville and on radio. Some of the top jazz men of the day sat in on on their records, including Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, Glenn Miller, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Dorsey and Bunny Berrigan. McKenzie was also a crooner and sang with his own orchestra outside the Blue Blowers, as well as with bands like Paul Whiteman’s. The Blue Blowers folded in 1936. McKenzie retired from show business in the late 1930s, although he returned as a singer from 1944 through 1947.
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.