The harmonica is his instrument, the world is his stage -- and he wants to come home

Baltimore Glimpses

September 21, 1993|By GILBERT SANDLER

WHAT might you have done for some entertainment on Saturday, June 2, 1928?

You might have gone to the flower show at the Women's Civic League, 108 W. Mulberry St.

There were a couple of forgettable movies, "Dragnet" at the Century, "Yellow Lily" at the Stanley. An equally forgettable play, "Women Go on Forever," was at Ford's. The pickings were fairly slim.

But there was some activity over at the newly opened Baltimore City College building at 33rd and The Alameda that sounded like fun. The Evening Sun (along with the Playground Athletic League) was staging its first harmonica contest.

And the winner of that long-ago contest was 14-year-old Lawrence Adler, of 2210 Bryant Ave. in Northwest Avenue.

Sixty-five years later, "Larry" Adler is credited with elevating harmonica playing to the level of classical music. He has had roles with the Great Ziegfeld and a partnership with the renowned dancer Paul Draper. He's had concerts in New York, London and around the world. He has survived a "blacklisting" that began in the McCarthy era but plagued him for decades and forced him to live in London. He rests comfortably on a reputation as "the world's greatest harmonica player."

And last summer, Larry Adler told a Sun reporter that one of his wishes is to return to the Peabody Preparatory School, where he had been a student during his early years in Baltimore, to help celebrate its 100th anniversary.

But of course.

Home, Baltimore. Where it all began. The stage at City College, early June, 1928.

There were about 40 young harmonica players that night vying for the title.

In addition to selections by combined harmonica classes, a violin recital and ex hibitions of harmonica playing, three harmonica championships were decided. They were the band contest, for which there were 10 entries, the girls' individual contest with nine entries and the boys' competition, which drew 20 competitors. The sole judge that night was Gustav Strube, conductor of the Baltimore Symphony.

After the girls' and boys' contests were decided, there was a special playoff to determine the overall winner. Larry Adler beat out one Mary Goodwin.

Most of the contestants played "St. Louis Blues." Some played "Black Bottom." Not Lawrence Adler. "Little Stinky," as he was called, played Beethoven's Minuet in G. (In an appearance at the Lyric in 1946, Mr. Adler admitted that he played the Minuet in G in the key of C.)

Glimpses hopes Mr. Adler, in the autumn of his life and career, gets his wish -- to come home to Baltimore and share in the celebration at his beloved Peabody. This time we'd like to hear "St. Louis Blues" along with the Minuet in . . . C.

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