Oral History -

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Bernie Kalban was one of the great veterans of the music publishing industry. Having worked in the era right after Tin Pan Alley, in the Brill Building and with many of the top firms, Bernie witnessed many of the most important changes to the music industry during the 20th century. He began working for Mills Music in 1939 and was there until he was drafted for World War II.

Brian Justice had been a salesman in many industries in Europe and gained a well-respected name in the music industry for his import/export business between England and Germany, about a decade after World War II. While in the British service, Brian took part in the Berlin Airlift (1948-49) and became interested in the business and cultural traditions of the country.

Robert Johnson served as a sales manager for Chicago Musical Instruments (CMI) when the company first acquired the noted violinmakers William Lewis & Son. As a salesman, he worked closely with Harry Benson, who was also interviewed for the NAMM Oral History program thanks to Robert.

Paul Johnson formed one of the early surf bands in Southern California during the golden era of instrumental music. As a guitarist and songwriter, Paul performed and recorded in the days before the Beach Boys, when it was common for an instrumental recording to be on the Top Ten lists.

Merle Johnson was a past president of the famous EK Blessing Company in Elkhart, Indiana. Emil Karl Blessing opened a small brasswind valve company in 1906 and soon expanded his products to include cornets and trumpets. Over the years the company grew to include Mr. Blessing’s sons, who played a large role in attracting top performers of the big bands to play their instruments. Mr. Blessing’s daughter, Virginia, was married in 1955 to Merle who purchased the company in 1964, becoming owner and president.

Gary Ingle is the CEO of the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). As a music educator, Gary sought to bring teachers together in ways that could benefit the profession as well as the school programs they were supporting.

Jack Hotop was among the innovative engineers at KORG during the early synthesizer craze, creating the first MIDI workstation, the KORG M1. During his long career at KORG, Jack has teamed with fellow engineer Jerry Kovarsky who later became product manager. Together they lead the team that created the KORG Oasys and more recently introduced the M3.

Paul Hagen grew up in England playing a number of musical instruments including the bassoon, piano and flute. He was part of the National Youth Band and, although he studied engineering in college, felt that he wanted to be involved with the music products industry. When he had the opportunity to purchase a wholesale company he was working for, Paul contacted his friend Lee Worsley and the two discussed creating a new company. They formed Active Music Distribution in 1999 with a strong focus on the percussion market.

Gary Grimes played a very vital role in the early part of his career, working in the music education department at Wurlitzer. Gary wrote many of the training programs for Wurlitzer as well as music education materials that were provided to customers. He served as Vice President of Marketing with Wurlitzer, Executive Vice President for the Baldwin Piano Company, President of Lowrey Organs and President of the National Piano Manufacturers Association. Gary enjoyed the piano industry so much that he set off to establish his own retail store.

Gene Gray was a sales rep for the mighty Wurlitzer Company from 1965 until 1988. During his NAMM interview, Gene spoke first hand of the great family feelings many had while working for the DeKalb,IL, based manufacturer. Gene played in his high school marching band and had music a part of his life in college where he studied economics and began working in sales.