The man who made bone playing popular again
Bone playing was all the rage 150 years ago during the U.S. Civil War.
By the turn of the century, when Percy Danforth learned to play bones on the streets of Washington, DC., the Minstrel Era was drawing to a close and bone playing was fading away with it.
Then in 1976 his famous musical bones went into production.
It is estimated that over thirty-thousand Danforth bones have been sold. Percy died in 1992 at the age of 92. His legacy continues...
Clockwise from left: Pine, Hickory, Cherry, Maple, Virgin Maple, Oak, Walnut, Rosewood, Ebony
The Amazing Story of Percy Danforth Bones
Percy Danforth was largely responsible for the resurgence of bone playing in the U.S.
He was also a driving force in bringing back the two-handed style of play common during the minstrel era. Percy played with top folk musicians and professional classical musicians. He even appeared on stage at Lincoln Center and was labeled "A National Treasure" by the Smithsonian Institution.
Percy was something of a Johnny Appleseed of musical bones. He taught legions of folks how to play and eventually had so many students he needed a steady supply of high quality wooden bones. So in 1976 Percy came to Ray Schairer's workshop with a pinewood sample. Ray built a custom shaper and the Percy Danforth brand of musical bones was born.
The design of the bones is patterned after instruments used by 'Mister Bones' during the minstrel era. Ray still has the sample that Percy brought to the shop.
Ray Schairer: Master Woodcrafter
Percy died in 1992, at the age of 92. And after 30 years of making Danforth Bones, Ray continues to experiment with new woods.
more than a quarter century Ray has turned out bones in the converted
chicken coop on his farm that served as his wood shop. Discover the whole story about Ray Schairer--
|Virgin Maple Bones
One of the more interesting woods Ray discovered is virgin maple. The wood was harvested from virgin Wisconsin forests standing long before the Declaration of Independence was signed. The logs were recently discovered at the bottom of Lake Superior. They sunk over 100 years ago when the tree trunks were lashed together in huge rafts towed down to Chicago.
The frigid waters preserved the ancient wood in impeccable condition. The wood is very close grained and Ray says admiringly, "This is real wood. You don't often see wood like this anymore." The sound is different too, sharper and crisper than bones made from the same conventional woods.
Handcrafted Using Custom Wood Shaper
Danforth Bones are pretty much consistent in size and shape. But after emerging from the wood shaper they still must be worked by hand. "So they are not machine precise," explains Danforth's newest bonemaker, Sandor Slomovits, adding "there will be variation."
In late 2008, after 32 years of service, Ray's custom wood shaper was replaced by a computerized machine - and the beat goes on...
Percy Danforth Bones and the New Millennium
Ray is slowly retiring from the bones business, and passing along the tradition to Sandor Slomovits. Sandor is a professional musician who learned to play bones from Percy. Percy was "The man who taught me everything I know about the bones," says Sandor. "The last time we played a concert together was at a senior citizens' Christmas party...and Percy, at age ninety, was still in great form." Percy died just nine days later.