Kaivama, and Finnish-American showbiz history
As of June 2010 I've been playing in a new band with amazing violinist Sara Pajunen. We're a Finnish-American folk music duo called KAIVAMA.
It's really been fun, challenging, and meaningful for me to play these beautiful old Nordic songs, and in the past couple years I've been learning more and more about the Finnish-American performers who paved the way for youngsters like Sara and me.
The most famous Finnish-American musician was Viola Turpeinen, an accordionist and band leader who toured the US in the mid-20th Century, performing at Finnish community halls. A few days ago while on vacation in Michigan's Upper Peninsula I got a chance to visit with local music historian Tom Chevrette, who showed me this accordion. The instrument was played by Viola herself while she was on tour in the UP in 1945! Viola was born in 1909 in Champion, MI, just a few miles away from my own hometown of Ishpeming. I drove through Champion yesterday morning, and wondered if Viola's birthplace is still there somewhere. Her childhood home, maybe?
Just in the past year I found out about Finnish-American (and African!) actress, singer, and entertainer Rosa Lemberg. Here's a photo of Rosa (born Rosa Emilia Clay in 1875, in Namibia to English and African parents). Her biography is really complex, but the general idea is:
+ she's African, born in Africa
+ adopted by Finnish missionaries
+ moved to Finland, learns the language, and grows up there
+ moves to the USA, settles in Finnish communities
+ travels the USA as a singer, actress, educator, and political activist
+ gets old and moves to a Finnish home for the elderly in Covington, MI, in the Upper Peninsula
+ is buried in the Covington cemetary
A helpful summary of Rosa's incredible life was published in the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat in January 2010, and is also available to read on the blogosphere HERE.
Yesterday I drove with my children from Ishpeming, MI back to our home in Minnesota. Since we were passing through Covington on the way, I thought it would be nice to stop by to visit the gravesite of Rosa Lemberg. Here we are yesterday morning, remembering an extraordinary woman. As I look forward to more touring with Kaivama, I'll be thinking of Rosa and Viola who were performing for the Finnish-American community a century before me.