Whistling is, pretty much, a lost art form. In the 50s and 60s we were used to seeing (and hearing) whistlers pop up on TV and on records (Mrs. Miller, Roger Whittaker…) and in my own collection I have whistling 78s from the 30s and 40s, but very few of the whistling stars of the cabaret stage went as far as to make an entire album dedicated to whistling.
One of the few who did was Chicago’s Susan Zagon.
There were a number of professional whistlers plying their trade, of whom the best known was probably Fred Lowery in the States and Jan Lindblad from Sweden, but I doubt either of those stars of the whistling scene sold their albums from a box on the counter of their family’s rattan furniture store.
Susan issued her sole album, Whistler, on her own Zagon Records sometime in the late 1960s. On the twelve tracks, noted as “songs, variety and classic, also Bird Imitations” according to the rear of the sleeve, Susan is accompanied by pianist Marian Johnson.
The album must have sold well enough to have gone through at least two impressions, as there are copies with two distinctly different sleeves out there. The whole thing reminds me of Florence Foster Jenkins, with the earnest Susan warbling away while her own Cosme McMoon (in the shape of Ms. Johnson) fills in the gaps and tries valiantly to keep up. The comparison seems apt, as both Florence and Susan recorded versions of Liadoff’s Musical Snuff Box.
Susan first became interested in whistling as a child, telling a newspaper that “I loved listening to opera records, but I couldn’t sing along because I had no voice. I can’t even talk loud or yell. But I could whistle, so I followed the recordings by whistling along. My mother was very enthusiastic. I think she loved the whistling more than I did.” Mom wanted Susan to find a teacher and, at 19 years-old Miss Zagon began to train as a professional whistler, spending some $10,000 over twelve years to hone her craft.
“This was easier said than done,” she revealed. “There is no glut of whistling teachers after all.”
Anyway, here are a couple of tracks from Susan Zagon: Whistler for you to marvel over. See you next week for the start of this year’s Christmas Cavalcade.
Download Birdling HERE
Download Snuff HERE