May 26, 2010
One of the things I remember most about growing up is that my dad was always whistling. Always. While he did the dishes, was out in the yard, driving us to soccer practice and even, to our horror, while walking around in public places (cause enough for my brothers and I to quickly dash to another aisle in the grocery store.)
It wasn’t until I tried to whistle myself that I realized it was more of an art than an embarrassment. Some people I know can’t even make a sound when they try to whistle, and though I can whistle and even stay in tune, I don’t have nearly the range my father does. He even makes a nice vibrato.
Whistling is on my mind today as the 37th International Whistlers Competition kicks off today, drawing whistlers young and old from across the world.
The four-day event is held this year in Quingdao, China, but the competition began out of the Franklin County and Louisburg College Folk Festival in Louisburg, North Carolina. The festival began in 1970 and included competitions for professional and amateur performers. As the 1974 competition approached, according to the IWC, a man named Darrell Williams asked if he could whistle the song he wrote— “Little River Blues”—rather than sing it. The judges accepted it in a solo vocal category, which Williams went on to win.
After Williams won again the following year, the judges created a separate whistling category. And in 1980, the whistling competition was so popular it had to find it’s own sponsor, and became the National Whistlers Convention that summer. Soon, judges began inviting famous composers and whistlers to conduct workshops with the competitors. In 1996, the contest began to offer an international award, helping it evolve into the International Whistlers Competition it is known as today.
What? You can’t whistle? Don’t worry—the IWC folks tell us the competition “is also a time for non-whistlers to support whistling and for whistlers’ fans to join the festival of events.”
Get in on the action wherever you are with one of our favorite whistling tracks from Smithsonian Folkways, “Whistle Blues,” from Mary Lou Williams’ album “Mary Lou Williams: The Asch Recordings 1944-47.” (No relation)
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