Music in the Family Part III – Listen to Myrtle Sing

The more I look into my family history for references to music, the more I realize how much it plays a part of the family.  I had thought at first that the series would be a month long, but now I’m thinking it will probably be close to two months long.  And since last week we looked at my dad’s side of the family, this week will be looking at my mom’s side.  In particular, the focus will be on my mom’s mom Myrtle Phenice Bucklin.  My Grandma.

Myrtle Phenice Bucklin

Myrtle Phenice Bucklin circa 1949

When I was a kid I never really cared for Grandma’s singing.  She sang kinda loud with a vibrato that seemed operatic to me.  I’ve never been a fan of the opera.  Different strokes for different folks.  But music was always very important to her.  She was singing til the day she died.  I mean that literally.  When she was 79 years old she was still singing at nursing homes for the “old folks.”  On May 6, 1986, she was singing and playing the piano for her peeps when she had a stroke and fell off the piano bench.  She ended up dying the following morning at 6:01 am.

Not only was she singing at the end of her own life, she sang at the end of her husband’s life too.  (You know this already if you’ve read all of my other posts.)  She sang his favorite song to him – “Amazing Grace” – and as she wrote in a letter to her childhood friend, “I’d finished singing, he looked up at me, smiled and died.”  Music was definitely an important part of her life.  But music wasn’t just a part of the end of her life, it was part of her early life, too.

Her father was Harry Clifton Phenice and her mother was Daisy Keys Phenice.  Both of them were musical people.  HC played the fiddle and he like to play by ear.  According to writings of Grandma’s sister Marguerite, he played a “homey” style that everyone liked.  He would play at community dances along with other extended family members.  He entered a fiddle contest in Jennings once and lost because he played a slow tune.  Daisy was beside herself because he didn’t play a showstopper like his usual upbeat songs like “Turkey in the Straw” or “Irish Washerwoman.” (or even “Soldier’s Joy”)  This allowed Daisy’s brother Leonard to win the contest when clearly HC was the better fiddler. (No bias there.)

The family also would have other families come over for a ‘sing-a-long.’  Daisy would bake peanuts or popcorn, and sometimes she would go all out and make popcorn balls with caramel and nuts.  (A treat that my mom would make for us from time to time.)  HC would play the fiddle, Myrtle (Grandma) or Daisy would play the piano, her brother Henry would play the violin, and Warren and the others would all sing along.  So Grandma grew up around music and was used to playing and singing in front of people.

That is a good thing, because otherwise she wouldn’t have been a willing participant when her older brother Sylvan suggested that he would record her singing some of her favorite songs in 1944.  Sylvan was into radio and sound systems from a young age.  This led to the Bucklin family being one of the early adopters for radio in the early days.  It also led to Sylvan making recordings of his family conversations and singing.  I am particularly thankful to him for that.

When I ‘rediscovered’ these recordings last year, I wasn’t sure who it was singing on them.  I thought it sounded like Grandma, but they were in a style that I liked.  I checked with mom and she assured me that they were Grandma.  The recordings were from around 1944.  It was after that time that she started taking singing lessons and adopted the more operatic style that I heard when growing up.  She even sings the old Irish song “Mother McCree” with a brogue and rolls her Rs.  I love it. (The titles of the songs are linked to the recordings.)

The recordings are in really good shape.  I did edit them to make it easier to listen to them.  When she sang “Smiles” she went straight into “Perfect Day” and I wasn’t sure it was a new song. I separated them into two separate files. Then on “There’s an Old Spinning Wheel in the Parlor” the song was cut off before the ending.  Fortunately for us, she had perfect pitch which made the editing easy.  Otherwise the beginning of the song would be out of tune with the end.

So enjoy listing to Grandma sing these old songs from bygone days.  I always find that listening to them in my car has the best effect.  If you have a smart phone that is linked to your sound system, that is.  And do it when you’re not driving!  I’m sure that thought never crossed her mind when those songs were recorded.  Mercy me!

After Grandma and Grandpa moved to Jennings in the 1970s, Grandma sang many solos at the Trinity United Methodist Church.

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