Oral History -
Richard Webb’s grandfather opened a pawnshop in England and his father, Sydney, developed a small music division within the shop some 20 years later. Since the age of 12, Richard thought of nothing else but to be involved with the family business. Richard enjoyed the music business and was greatly inspired when rock and roll was first popular. Richard and his father opened a combo shop that would later sell keyboards. They were ready for the home organ boom of the 1960s and grew to 48 Minns-Crane stores in all.
Claude Watson was a precise and revered luthier who perfected the fine art of handcrafted instrument building. He was known for his clever design and complex inlay work in country-style flat tops and a series of violins, cellos, and string basses.
Allan Ward has enjoyed nearly 40 years in the print music industry. He has become one of the leaders in promotion and education regarding sheet music purchasing and retail selling. Allan has worked for Belwin, Alfred, and Charles Demont and Sons (print music distributors) in addition to serving as President of the Musical Instrument Association of Canada (MIAC).
John B. Walker was a well-recognizable character of the music products industry having been a piano mover most of his career. He enjoyed success and friendship but is perhaps most proud of the fact that his son joined him in the business. John worked for several movers during his career and supported almost all of the piano builders at one time or another.
Dan Vedda grew up playing music. As an arranger and trumpeter he gained a respected reputation in the Westlake area of Ohio. After working for a music retailer in town he was encouraged by a music teacher friend to open his own store –so he did. Skyline Music--the name comes from his rock band the Skyliners--brought Dan’s great knowledge of music and business together. He focused on the often-forgotten customer of music stores, the music teacher. In 1996 he became a regular columnist for the Music and Sound Retailer.
Johnny Thompson has the distinction of being the very first music student of a young steel guitar player named Ernie Ball. Back in the early 1950s, before he established his string company, Ernie was a well known country player in and around Los Angeles, and taught a few students for extra money.
Vinny Testa has provided the music products industry with more fervent communication, helping to unite and expand the industry. As founder of Music and Sound Retailer, Vinny introduced many of the magazine’s notable features and expanded the venture to include Testa Television and Testa Communications.
Millie Swanson was known as “The Sweetheart of Wurlitzer.” She joined the company in 1931 as an office clerk while still in high school. Over the years, as Wurlitzer grew into the largest musical instrument maker in the world, Millie was promoted to assistant to Mr. Wurlitzer and served in that position under the direction of three company presidents.
Murray Sunshine was a legend in the New York music retailing business. As an employee of Manny’s Music, hired by Manny himself, Murray witnessed first hand the growth of 48th Street as a music center for not only the country but the world. Murray later opened his own chain of stores on Long Island.
Henry Z. Steinway was quite articulate when speaking about the incredible history of the Steinway and Sons Piano Company. One could say that he lived all elements of being a Steinway as the former president of the Steinway Company. His love for music led to the creation of the board of the NAMM Foundation’s Museum of Making Music, for which Henry was the first president. His passion for music went beyond that of the company. As he once said, “You don’t have to play the piano, but do play an instrument.” His inspiration and example will be felt for many decades to come.