Hy Dolber

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Hy Dolber was an adept harmonica player during the '40s and '50s who performed in groups such as the Polka Dots, the Harmonicats, Art Dickson & His Harmonicowboys, and of course the Minnevitch Rascals.…
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Hy Dolber was an adept harmonica player during the '40s and '50s who performed in groups such as the Polka Dots, the Harmonicats, Art Dickson & His Harmonicowboys, and of course the Minnevitch Rascals. The latter group was originally formed in the late '20s by Borrah Minevitch, famed harmonica virtuoso and impresario. Dolber along with players such as Frank Andriello, Michael Chimes, and Ralph Files were all typical of the young harmonica players who had decided to play the instrument following the experience of a performance by the Minnevitch Rascals -- on film it was great, in a live setting it was even better.

A completely different world than blues harmonica, the musical virtuosity in this style of ensemble harmonica playing was of the jaw-dropping variety. It seems inconceivable, but is altogether true, that in the '40s the musicians' union did not consider the harmonica an actual instrument. As a direct result, harmonica players were not considered musicians. For the most part, this ruling was of no benefit to performers such as Dolber, that is until the second World War recording ban came along. In 1942, instrumentalists who were acknowledged as such by the union were forbidden to make new recordings. Harmonica players, on the other hand, could not be banned from recording whatever they wanted to in the studio because technically it wouldn't be music.

Some enterprising producers were soon assembling harmonica quartets and other configurations to cut sides on their own, as well as backing singers. Dolber accompanied vocalist and actor Artells Dickson on tracks such as "She Gave Her Heart to a Soldier Boy" and "The Man of the Hour, General Eisenhower," the patriotic aspect of the material perhaps making up for the sneaky-snock maneuver involving harmonicas. Considering that the musicians only got thirty bucks each for these sessions it can't really be considered to have been a major assault on the war effort. Dolber and Chimes, who would be the one to talk the union into accepting the harmonica in the following decade, also played in all-harmonica combos behind the blues singer Dolores Brown.