Old Timer Is Yanked Away From A Musical Career

 By Norris Chambers

           Way back when I was in about the fifth grade and about the same time I got my first typewriter I got my first banjo. It was a cheapie from a junk store in town and cost a whole two dollars. I had wanted a musical instrument for quite a while and a banjo was on the top of the list because my dad said he played one when he was a youngster. He still knew a few old favorite tunes like Leather Britches and Get Along Home Cindy.
            In a few days I had learned to pick out some tunes from the records we had for our old wind-up phonograph. My first one was Papa’s Billy Goat, then came Golden Slippers, Wreck of the Old 97, Little Brown Jug and a few others of that caliber. I guess my biggest mistake was thinking that I was a singer. I sang all of these old songs with good volume. I suspect that the quality of the sound was not top notch but Clifton and a few others thought it was great. Clifton even began to talk of getting a guitar.
            Our school had a student assembly upstairs in the auditorium every Monday morning and the program presentation was assigned to a different teacher each week. When our teacher, Miss Nunnaly, was given the job she began to see what our room could offer in the way of entertainment. Entertainment usually consisted of someone reciting a poem, a piano student playing a recently learned composition, a talented harmonica player, a singing group or a short play enacted by a few ambitious students. Noble Whitfield was a good harmonica player and he readily volunteered to do a couple of songs, Connie was taking piano lessons and she was anxious to show her progress, Sally was into acrobatics and she wanted to do a few stunts on the stage and Nedra was taking a private class called “expression” and was very willing to do her rendition of a poem. Clifton and another boy kept telling me to do some banjo playing. Clifton even spoke out loud to the teacher.
            “Miss Nunnaly,” he said, “Norris plays the banjo real good! We ought to get him up there!”
            She asked me if I would be on the program. I agreed to do it but soon began to wonder if I had made a good choice. I worried about it the whole week-end and when Monday morning dawned bright and clear I carried my old banjo to school. Everybody stared and pointed as I walked across the school yard and into our room. I stood the musical instrument in a corner. It was a real curiosity and students in all three grades had to go by and examine it. Some even went so far as to plunk on the strings.
            Soon we marched up the stairs to the auditorium and we performers went to the little room behind the stage while everyone else seated themselves in the large viewing area. After three or four acts it became time for me to perform. I took my old long necked banjo and strolled out on the stage. There was immediate applause from the audience. This was the first time a banjo player had presented himself as an entertainer With  my loud raspy voice I sang Papa’s Billy Goat.  I finished and bowed politely. Again the applause was tremendous. This gave me confidence and I quickly came back with another old time song.
            My confidence kept rising and I almost imagined myself a great singer. I kept returning with an encore. After about the fifth number while presenting my crowd-pleasing bow I felt someone grasp me by the arm and lead me off the stage. I wasn’t led to the back room, but right down the three steps into the auditorium. The program stopper was my sister!
            My sister was a first grade teacher there and she had endured all she could tolerate of my singing debut. “That is enough,” she said. I meekly found a seat and sat down, holding my banjo.
The applause I got when being taken off the stage was even louder than that I had received while performing. I guess I was embarrassed but I’m sure I didn’t feel as bad about it as she did.
            Looking back now I can see how she must have felt seeing her little brother make such a fool of himself before the whole school. She probably should have removed me sooner.
            And what hurt me just as bad, or even a little worse, was what Carl said to me at recess.
            “Norris, we just kept applauding you back so we wouldn’t have to go back to classes!”
I have thought about this episode for many years and have tried hard to determine if there was any fun in it. Remind me to tell you about the time our band, the Jolly Farm Boys, played over the radio station in Brady – they liked us there. They liked us over the Dublin station and a couple of us did all right over a Mexican station.
            Maybe this first experience was what musicians refer to as “Paying your dues!” I guess it was FUN!