Edith and Grace first heard Hawaiian folk music when they happened upon the Hawaii territorial pavilion at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. There they were introduced to the great Henry Kailimai and his band, and the music of the islands became stuck in their heads and hearts. Avid musicians since childhood, they traveled to Honolulu in 1920, and learned how to play the instruments and songs they loved so much.
Several MacDowell Sisters recordings reside in the family archives, and are in the process of restoration. Unfortunately, due to their advanced age (most date from 1924 and 1926) some of the records suffer from severe wear and scratches. But we are working on a number of avenues to be able to release this time capsule of popular music from the period.
A couple recordings have been cleaned up and can be heard here:
In 1926, the MacDowell Sisters made some recordings for the Unity record label as part of the “New Thought” movement. The sisters often included a hymn or two in their set, as they were adherents to the idea of healing through music.
We have recently procured a copy of their 1924 recording “Baby Sister Blues”, which was engineered by Thomas Edison himself in his West Orange recording studio (the experience of that session is documented in All Aboard). Although we have not yet restored the recording, a vintage recording fan has posted this video:
Additional research has yielded a list of eight test recordings commissioned by the Victor company including several that were re-recorded and released by the Edison company later the same year and in 1926.