Alkire, Elbern H. (1907-1981) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Alkire, Elbern H. (1907-1981)

Historical Note:

Elbern Homer "Eddie" Alkire (1907-1981) was America's most recognized performer, teacher, and innovator of the twentieth-century Hawaiian guitar. Eddie Alkire, the son of Bessie Alkire, was born on December 6, 1907 in Hacker's Valley, West Virginia. When he was five months old, his father was killed in a railroad accident and he was subsequently adopted and raised by his maternal grandparents, David Lee Alkire and Arminta Alkire (nee Lake). At the age of 16, his grandfather died, leaving Eddie to manage the family grocery store. Sometime around 1921, Eddie began practicing the guitar and enrolled in a correspondence course created by the First Hawaiian Conservatory of Music, a guitar store based in New York and New Jersey. In 1925, Eddie began working at a coal mine operated by Standard Supply Co. in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Soon after, he enrolled in an electrical engineering correspondence course, which he completed in less than a year. During this same year, Alkire performed guitar and tenor banjo for the first time on a radio station, W.M.M.N., which was located in Fairmont, West Virginia.

In 1929, Alkire moved to Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania in order to attend a technical night school. During this time, he was employed by the Westinghouse Electrical Company, where he built switch gear apparatuses and intended to become an electrical engineer. By chance, the Westinghouse building where he worked was located across the street from a local Hawaiian Guitar Shop and School. Members of the School tried to persuade him to abandon his pursuit of electrical engineering and to teach and perform at the school. He soon began playing on the school's Sunday radio hour sponsored by radio station K.Q.V.

In 1930, Alkire was persuaded to move to Cleveland, Ohio where he became a teacher and composer for the Oahu Music Company. Between 1930 and 1934, Alkire acted as the music director for the Oahu Serenaders, an ensemble that performed on over 1000 coast-to-coast, nationally syndocated N.B.C and C.B.S. radio broadcasts. As a performer, Alkire experimented with new tunings that enabled him to play four-part harmonies and rapid melodic passages and as a result the Oahu Serenaders fostered a deep fan base. In 1934, Alkire married Margaret Hanzel, who suggested that he find a more stable career. That year, Alkire and his wife moved to Easton, Pennsylvania. It was here that Alkire created his own music publishing company. Building upon his own educational experiences and the publishing experience he gained from Oahu, Alkire created a series of progressive correspondence lessons that taught beginning and intermediate players how to play Hawaiian and Spanish guitar. His correspondence course would continue publishing learn-by-mail lessons well into the 1960s.

In 1936, Alkire utilized his knowledge of electrical engineering to create an experimental 15-string electric Hawaiian guitar. By 1939, he had solicited renowned electric guitar maker George Beauchamp to help him cast the first 10-string Hawaiian Guitar, which he called the E-Harp (pronounced ay-harp) and which Alkire officially patented in 1950. Near the end of his life, Alkire designed several guitar pedals and several other Hawaiian guitars including: The Mighty Mo, the Super Axe, the Mini Surfer, the Cruiser, and the Islander. Alkire died on January 25, 1981. He was inducted in the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame two years later in 1983.

Note Author: Scott W. Schwartz and Nolan Vallier

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