Conjoined Twin Sax Players: From Sideshows To Vaudeville

For quite some time now, whenever I search eBay for saxophone collectibles, up pops a photograph of conjoined twins playing sax. Honestly, I thought it was most likely a hoax.

Then this morning, while searching early 20th century news archives for interesting saxophone articles, I happened to come across a story in the July 9, 1934 edition of The Evening News, from San Jose, California. This story made me rethink my earlier assumption about the conjoined twins photo.

It turns out that Violet Hilton and her fiancé Maurice Lambert, were denied a marriage license because Violet was a conjoined twin—or Siamese twin as they were called at the time. It seems the couple was denied the license on the grounds that it would be “immoral”. The question at the heart of the matter, was were the twins really 1 person, or were they 2?

screenshot, conjoined twin article, The Evening News, San Jose, California, July 9, 1934

Source: The Evening News, July 9, 1934

Violet Hilton was a saxophone player, as was her sister Daisy. They were actually born in England in 1908, and ended up touring the US, first in sideshows, and then with the Vaudeville circuit.

The following is the cover page for a brochure from Bob Hope’s Vaudeville tour from 1926.

brochure cover page, Bob Hope's 1926 Vaudeville Tour, conjoined twins, daisy and violet hilton, soprano saxophones

Source: Library of Congress, Bob Hope Exhibit

According to the Library of Congress’ Bob Hope and American Variety, Vaudeville page,

Hope’s 1926 Vaudeville Tour

In 1926 Lester Hope and George Byrne were booked on a tour in which the headliners were eighteen-year-old siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. The Hilton Sisters’s show featured the twins telling stories of their lives, playing saxophone and clarinet duets, and dancing with Hope and Byrne.

Oh, and for your gear-curious types out there, this was the 1920s after all, so you can probably guess what brand of saxophones Daisy and Violet played…

brochure back page, Bob Hope's 1926 Vaudeville Tour, conjoined twins, daisy and violet hilton, Buescher True Tone saxophone ad

Source: Library of Congress, Bob Hope Exhibit

Their life prior to, during, and after the fame waned, was anything but idyllic. To get a snippet of what their life might have been like, check out J Tithonus Pednaud’s article, THE HILTON SISTERS – Chained For Life, on his website Human Marvels.

Pednaud’s article on Violet and Daisy Hilton is based on excerpts of the book, Very Special People: The Struggles, Loves and Triumphs of Human Oddities.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

R.I.P. Laura Mae Daniels 1925-2012

The saxophone world lost someone earlier this month—someone who at one time brought a bit of home to the men and women who served the United States Of America during WWII.

According to her obituary in the November 20 edition of the Chicago Tribune, Laura Mae Daniels passed away on November 8, at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, due to complications of a stroke she suffered 6 years ago. She was 87 years old at the time of her death.

Daniels was born in Chicago, and began playing saxophone while she was in her teens. At the time she played with a neighbourhood band. After she graduated high school, she joined a group of her former classmates in the Sharon Rogers All-Girl Band, which was formed during WWII. That band toured the US playing big band music.

The USO was so impressed by the band, that it booked them to play as part of the same circuit that included the likes of Bob Hope and Danny Kaye. The band played military bases, hospitals, and camps in the Pacific theatre. It was during one of those USO tours that Ms. Daniel’s life was forever changed.

In January 1946, only 5 months after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Sharon Rogers All-Girl Band was travelling on a plane that had to make a crash landing in the Sea of Japan. Although everyone on the plane survived, and was eventually picked up by a Japanese fishing boat, some band members were injured in the crash, and ended up in a hospital in Hiroshima.

Ms. Daniels was profoundly affected by seeing the destruction in Hiroshima, and witnessing first-hand the suffering of the victims of the bombing:

The experience affected her so deeply that during the 1960s she formed a Peace Coalition at First Congregational Church of Wilmette, where she was a member, and marched on Washington to protest the Vietnam War.

“She described Hiroshima as horrific, that what she saw there should never, ever happen again,” her brother Bob said.

Source: Obituary for Laura Mae Daniels, former Winnetka teacher and USO saxophone player

In plane crashes there are sometimes people who are left unscathed. Laura Mae Daniels was one of them. Remarkably, she survived the plane crash with not a scratch on her.

book cover, big band, WWII, USO tour, all woman band, saxophone section

     Source: Amazon.com

Ms. Daniels’ experiences during that remarkable time of her life, were an integral piece of the research conducted by author Pat McGrath Avery. McGrath Avery’s 2009 book titled: The Sharon Rogers Band: Laughed Together, Cried Together, Crashed and Almost Died Together, is the band’s story.

After the war, Ms. Daniels first became a lab technician, but then went to college to earn her teaching credentials. She taught chemistry in private and public schools until her retirement.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

Sistergold: A German Saxophone Quartet

I love trolling YouTube for good saxophone-related videos that have not been viewed a bazillion times. This morning I found another one of these little obscure gems—and by obscure I mean something not in our North American-centric consciousness.

Sistergold is a saxophone quartet from Germany. The group is made up of 4 very talented saxophonists, who play a variety of music that ranges from ABBA to classical, to blues, to standards, as well as their own compositions.

saxophone quartet, German, female saxophone player, women, baritone sax, tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax,

     Source: sistergold.de

Sistergold’s members are: Kerstin Röhn (baritone), Sigrun Krüger (tenor), Elisabeth Flämig (alto), and Inken Röhrs (soprano). Each has studied music or saxophone during her post secondary eduction, and each is heavily involved in the performing arts beyond Sistergold.

This official trailer for Sistergold gives you an pretty good idea of the quartet’s style, as well as an overview of some of their music. The trailer also illustrates a few other talents, like tap.

My 2 favourite pieces that the group has put on their YouTube channel exemplify 2 very different things.

Bei mir bist shein illustrates their tightness and overall musicality. The piece also allows each player to solo. While each solo is flawless, I just love Sigrun Krüger’s tenor solo at 1:25 the most. (I think it’s my tenor bias coming through.) ;)

The other video that I really liked, is actually a duet between the tenor and the soprano, but involving all 4 players. Hit The Road Jack shows Sistergold’s stage presence, but also their musical talents.

It is not easy for 2 people to play 1 horn. Ever tried it? I have, and my efforts didn’t turn out anything like this…

If you’re a fan of saxophone groups, then Sistergold is definitely worth a listen. Check out their website. There you’ll also find a link to their Facebook page, as well as links to the member’s other projects as well.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!