About The Artist
The Beginning - From Canada to Rhinelander
A project case of nearly two dozen old WLS National Barn Dance souvenir programs was what brought this performer to our attention and further research. Leizime Brusoe was born in Belleville, Ontario in Canada in 1870. Throughout this article the reader will note the various spellings of his first name found in articles and promotional ads. Ancestry.com indicates that "Leizime" was perhaps the correct spelling.
He married the former Sophia Hebert on August 1, 1895 in Ironwood, Michigan. Sophia was born in Dover, Ontario to parents Isdeore and Ada Hebert on December 1, 1869. She had three other siblings; she was the youngest as of the 1871 Canadian census. The 1881 Canadian census showed three more siblings.
The 1900 US Census indicates he had lived in the United States for nine years by that time; the census also indicated he had become a naturalized United States citizen.
In 1900, he and his wife were living in the town of Pelican, Wisconsin. They would later move to Rhinelander, Wisconsin where they lived for 57 years. The U.S. Census records indicated that both were of French Canadian descent. Leizime's obituary indicated the couple had two children, Beatrice Brusoe (B: September 5, 1903 — D: December 29, 1992) and Alfred Brusoe (B: July 22, 1899 — D: February 24, 1986). Alfred was living in Gladstone, MI in 1949.
In the early 1920's, Mr. Brusoe had his own band and ads were seen in the local paper advertising the dances on a regular basis. No information as to how large the "orchestra" was or who was in it could be found.
1926 - Old-Time Fiddlers' Championship Contest
The town of Rhinelander took up a fund drive to provide Mr. Brusoe with the funds to go to Chicago to take part in the Chicago Herald and Examiner Old-Time Fiddlers' Championship contest. A benefit was held on February 24 sponsored by the Rhinelander Outdoor Club at a movie theatre. There was a $50 goal for funds to pay for Brusoe's expenses to Chicago; that goal was exceeded by $20. The fund raising effort was the idea of WHBL radio station announcer John Sullivan who heard Lazene play several numbers one night - he wanted him to be in the Fiddle contest in Chicago.
The contest was broadcast live over radio station WEBH in Racine, Wisconsin. It was promoted as the "Herald and Examiner Midwest Old-Time Fiddlers' Championship" contest. The local Rhinelander newspaper reported that there 270 contestants / fiddlers from five midwest states. The contest had 18 participants. The Rhinelander article, it took a playoff to determine the winner. The judges had determined that Brusoe and Peter Lennon of Chicago were the outstanding fiddlers. After the awards for the other seven places had been handed out, Brusoe and Lennon took part in a play off to try and break the deadlock.
Lennon had broken his 'A' string and put in an old string to replace it. The article reported, "...the white-haired man took the house by storm." Brusoe countered with "Fisher's Hornpipe", "Good For The Town" and "MacDonald's Reel." In the end around midnight on March 2, the "three unbiased judges" judges had narrowed it down to three fiddlers. Mr. Brusoe, one from Aurora, IL and another from Chicago. News articles indicated there was a bit of debate before the judges awarded Leizime Brusoe the first prize of $100 in gold and a 22-inch silver cup as well as other prizes offered by theatrical interests, including a vaudeville contract.
An uncited quote said this about Brusoe's efforts: "Brusoe was competent throughout the contest, especially in sound amplification. He made every note resound and echo throughout the huge Coliseum."
But some of the old-time fiddlers raised a ruckus and claimed they had never heard Brusoe's "Good For The Town." But second-place finisher Peter Lammon, defused things a bit in an interview. He stated, "Brusoe was a knockout. The best man won. Brusoe is the best jig and reel player I ever heard in my life. I never heard "Good for the Town" before, but it's beautiful. He was square throughout. I am satisfied."
Brusoe offered a thanks to the local newspaper, The Rhinelander Daily News and also to the Majestic Theatre for making his trip possible.
After the contest, Lazene, John Lennon and L. S. McCoon of Aurora, IL (the third place finisher) went to Aurora where they would appear together at the Fox Theatre.
Part of Mr. Brusoe's winnings was a six week vaudeville contract at a salary of $125 a week plus expenses.
In the days after the contest, articles spoke to the praise of Brusoe's performance. A reader from Green Bay wrote, "...I was very glad to know that the judges awarded first place on merit and not the popular spirit." (He was noting the applause the Chicago audience gave their local Fiddler.)
Another reader complained about not being able to hear the WHBL broadcast. Perhaps the reader did not know that WHBL (Rhinelander Has Beautiful Lakes) was a portable station that had only been setup two weeks prior at the Majestic Theatre.
The Chicago fiddlers' contest and Leizine's victory seemed to spur more such gatherings. The town of Kenosha, Wisconsin began to make plans to invite fiddlers' from out of town with a reputation. One was George Franklin Gaskill of Chicago who was 88 years old when they extended him an invitation. The contest was known as the Kenosha Evening News-Orpheum Theater Old Time Fiddlers' Contest. They wrote that Gaskill's technique was "...one of the most unique exceptions of old time fiddlin' since that indoor sport was in its infancy."
Another nationally known famous fiddler, Mellie Dunham, from Maine who had gained recognition from one of Henry Ford's competitions was also to be invited.
Thomas Croal of Milwaukee who held the title of "State Champion Barn Dance Fiddler" was on the invite list as well.
The Kenosha folks also invited their new local icon champion fiddler, Leizime Brusoe.
However, the four fiddlers' would not take part in any competition with the local fiddlers'. They were to provide entertainment sponsored by the Evening News and Orpheum Theatre partnership as part of a contribution "...to the nation-wide revival of old time tunes."
A March 1926 article goes on to mention other names of the past when the 'competitions' were just a novel idea. Fiddlers such as Giles Robinson, Terence McGurgan, Dave Marshall and Robert Thomsen. Fiddlers that came after them were names such as Bill McWilliams, Niles Brigham and John Malmstrom. It was felt that the old-time barn dance was "...once more an institution and the tunes which emanate from these are taking their places..."
The Kenosha paper published an entry form. There would be preliminary contests at the Orpheum Theater each Tuesday evening, with the winners getting a prize of $15 and the runner-up, $10.
Research of Leizime and other fiddle contests led to more discoveries and perhaps future writings on this site. This was a time when aauto makerHenry Ford was sponsoring fiddle contests. One could not help but notice that pictures of the fiddlers always sseemedto show them in their 'Sunday best' - a suit and tie.
Fiddling contests were quite popular in the 1920's. Our research showed that radio station WOS in Jefferson City, Missouri was going to stage an "old fiddlers' contest" on April 2, 1926. The Governors of the states of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska nnominatedtwo 'old' fiddlers to represent each of their states. The winner would be decided by the radio listening audience - by sending a telegram to the Jefferson City station. "The local telegraph offices will remain open tonight to accommodate senders of the telegrams."
That Jefferson City contest while only attracting 15 fiddlers, some familiar names were part of it. The winner of the contest was not announced until a couple weeks later, perhaps reflecting the burden of counting thousands of votes by telegram and / or by phone. Interesting anecdotes were found as part of the research.
One article reported that over 60,000 gifts had been donated for prizes. They ranged from items such as a can of smoking tobacco to a $200 scholarship in college. Other prizes included baby chicks, five tube radio receiving sets, shoes, hats, starch, soap, coffee, tea, sugar, syrup, candy, nursery stock, a barrel of apples, flour, chili, purebred chickens, purebred board, agricultural limestone and presumably more.
Having a well-known local Fiddler could also impact the contests as votes might sway to a home town favorite. In the WOS contest, Daniel B. Jones of Stephens, MO was no stranger to their listening audience having finished first or second in prior contests aired by the station. The other Missouri fiddler was Louis Barton, of Jefferson City, Missouri.
Expectations were raised a bit when an article promoting the contest noted that a similar contest in Shenandoah, Iowa with a population of 3,000 drew over 226,000 telegrams.
The Missouri Meerschaum Co. of Washington, Missouri donated a thousand corn cob pipes to the list of prizes for the contest. The company was promoting the local contestant, D. B. Jones of Stephens, Missouri. One gets the feeling these contests took on the air of a political election.
The list of contestants for the WOS contest included:
An Associated Press wire story on April 3, 1926 reported that over 12,400 votes had been received by noon and more were coming in at the rate of over 1,000 an hour.
The fiddling did indeed go on all night - from 8:30pm to 5:00 the next morning. An article reported that 82 year old Uncle Jimmy Thompson was confident he could beat his Missouri opponent. He "scraped off" "Turkey In The Straw" and "Hoe Them Down" at 4:30am ... "as thought he was used to staying up all night." But it wasn't over. On April 3, fiddling began anew at 8:00am and went on until 1:00am the next morning. An article mentioned that the winner would receive $500; other prizes included a dozen small chickens and even a 40-acre farm in Southeast Missouri.
But not all folks were enthused about these fiddle contests. A 'subscriber' wrote to the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
We see so much in the papers about the champion 'fiddler'; there is no such thing as an old fiddler "champion." They all play alike, the same old see-saw, and if you would stand all of them behind a wall and let them play, one at a time, the greatest musician in the world could not tell one from the other. The object of the whole thing is a graft gotten up in the country towns to gull the ignorant populace out of a little money.
As research went on, primarily to determine the winner of the contest, other smaller articles pprovidedtidbits of information or details. In Washington, Missouri, they reported that 171 telegrams had been sent from the Washington depot to WOS. The total cost of those telegrams was $61.
The days went by; an April 10, 1926 article mentioned that a winner had not yet been determined. Over 45,000 telegrams and phone messages had been received. But it also appeared that Missourians were 'stuffing the ballot' for their home town fiddlers as they were leading.
Finally, on April 19, 1926, radio station WOS announced that Daniel Boone (D.B.) Jones of Stephens, Missouri had wwonttheirchampionship old time fiddling contest. The total number of votes received was not revealed. However, it was noted that reports indicated that listeners in other states were unable to hear the contest due to the static over the airwaves, potentially impacting the vote totals. Reportedly, over 250,000 'communications' were received.
His fame as a Fiddling champion carried on. Research shows that he made his first appearance in November 1928 on a Saturday night over WLS in Chicago, when it was reported he played several numbers over the air. No other information as to whether it was as a solo act or part of Rube Tronson's group which he became associated with.
Perhaps a week after that Saturday night performance he performed at the Thanksgiving Party that was put on by the Southern Old Time Club at the McHale Club located at 69th Street and Westworth Avenue in Chicago. In one of the few instances where other musicians working with Mr. Brusoe readers learned that Matt(sp?) Hickey, Belden Brusoe and William Buckley were backing Leizine.
Luzene Brusoe appears consistently in newspapers due to his performing at various dances, but once in a while, another side of him shows up. When the trout season opened in May of 1929 in the Land o' Lakes area, Brusoe reportedly caught two 15-inch trout and showing them off. But it was reported that he refused to tell anyone where the spot was that he made his catch. However, it seems it may have been in a stream near Tripoli.
Rube Tronson and the WLS National Barn Dance
Rube Tronson (B:April 9, 1896; D: March 9, 1939) was another Wisconsin native, from the town of Amherst. Prior to his arrival at WLS, he was promoting his act as Rube Tronson and his Wisconsin FFiddlers In July of 1928, an ad promoted "Tommy Dandurand his Famous National Barn Dance Fiddlers." The ad mentions Rube Tronson, Sam Malk, Eddie Goodreau and Tommy Daudurand (B: November 27, 1865; D: February 15, 1943). Tommy would have been about 63 years old at this time. Perhaps this was a way to continue the line of fiddle playing and the older tunes in the Barn Dance heritage. Tommy died of smoke inhalation when a fire broke out at his home in 1943. Tronson would have been about 32 years old when he was part of this group. Ed Goodreau research shows he was a clog dancer and caller as seen in promotional ads. A 1927 ad for Tommy's group mentions Jess Doolittle as playing banjo and harmonica; only Rube and Tommy were listed as fiddlers.
Perhaps this appearance was leading to his later association with Rube Tronson and WLS. In October 1931, Wisconsin held its state potato show at the Memorial Building in Rhinelander. It was written that "...potatoes—their grades, their standards, their markets and their prices—were thoroughly forgotten for a couple of hours..." Charles Grau led the Rhinelander Legion Band in several selections. Later, the "Happy Days Quartet" (B. J. Hallenbeck; Oscar Nelson; Kenneth Emmons and Truman Guenter) sang a few numbers and were called back for two additional numbers. Miss Jane Hampton accompanied the singers. Lazene Brusoe also gained his share of the applause with several musical selections, including the tune that won him the fiddle championship in 1926. Mrs. Vi Knutson accompanied him. He was called back twice and by popular demand, it was reported that he had to do his imitation of a bagpipe, seemingly on the violin / fiddle.
Towards the end of 1931, Zene Brusoe was to play between 3:00pm and 4:30pm on December 8, 1931 over radio station WLBL in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Mr. Brusoe would play as many of the requested tunes from listeners as time permitted. Vi Knutson of Rhinelander accompanied him on this appearance.
The July 4, 1932 weekend was going to be a local celebration, a Rhinelander homecoming festival. The word went out that all former residents of Oneida, Wausau and Marathon counties were invited to attend and take part.
The first mention we find of Leizime Brusoe as part of Rube Tronson's group was in a promotional picture for an appearance in Clinton, Illinois in January 1932. A promotional picture that later appeared in the WLS Family Album was seen in several other promotional items in newspapers.
As part of the weekend festivities, a musical program was planned for Saturday night, July 2 that would feature another Wisconsin native, Rube Tronson and his Texas Cowboys from WLS in Chicago. Rube's group would feature "Zene" Brusoe of Rhinelander in this program. Perhaps the beginning of an association that lasted several years. Rube and his group were to play for an old-time dance in the Memorial Building.
After Traveling With WLS Performers
Mr. Brusoe continued to perform after leaving WLS and Rube Tronson. His performances were centered around his residence in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. His tenure with WLS and Tronson cannot be documented by date though some indications can be surmised from browsing the personal appearance ads.
The venues were varied but he often re-visited them over the years. in 1931, his band / orchestra featured Pat Irick as the dance caller.
The venues mentioned in the promotional ads for Leizime Brusoe and his group were:
In October of 1944, there was a four day "Hobby, Sports, Agricultural and Industrial Exposition" held in the Memorial Building in Rhinelander. The event included a musical pairing of Leizime Brusoe with Emery Olson, two gentlemen who appeared together frequently over the years.
Recordings for Library of Congress - Preserving History
On August 30, 1941, a group of four Rhinelander instrumentalists got together and made recordings that were to go on file with the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The university of Wisconsin provided some technical help with graduate student of Robert Draves of Oconomowoc taking the task of recording technician with an assist from Mrs. Helene Stratman-Thomas, music school instructor. The effort was made to record only "...those selections which no longer are, or perhaps never were, in print — to preserve the music which grew not out of a profit motive but out of some unknown musician's desire to express himself and his period (era)."
Lumberjack songs were contributed to the archives by Emrey DeNotyer and Lee Tester. Polkas, jigs, reels, schottisches and a square dance were played by a four piece 'orchestra' that included Emery Olson on accordion; Walter Wyss on bass viol; Leizeime Brusoe on fiddle and Robert McLain on clarinet.
Later research indicates that Leizime Brusoe played four tunes, "French Four," "Quadrille," "Two Step Schottische," and, "Highland Fling." The Library of Congress released these recordings as part of a compilation on an LP entitled "American Fiddle Tunes."
The Greatest Rhinelander Fiddler of them All
During the later years of his life, his health began to deteriorate. Several news items indicated hospitalizations. In February 18, 1948, he was admitted to St. Mary's Hospital; he was released on March 23, 1948. He was re-admitted on June 14, 1948; he was released on June 18, 1948. On March 8, 1949, he died at St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield, WI where news reports indicated he had been a patient for nearly a month.
His illnesses impacted the Logging Museum as well. When the museum opened for the 1948 season over Memorial Day weekend, it was reported that due to Mr. Brusoe's absence as caretaker, Lowell Dell, a well-known woodsman of the area was taking his place.
His obituary noted that while his artistry with the fiddle was well noted by many professional musicians, he never had any formal musical education. He took some pride in the fact that he was able to accomplish so much without ever taking a music lesson.
A native of Canada, he lived in Rhinelander for about 57 years.
Because of his knowledge and familiarity of old-time lumberjack activities and music, he was asked to serve as custodian of the famous Rhinelander Logging Museum, a post he held until the last season before his death.
His obituary noted that for about 40 of his 57 years in Rhinelander, he operated Brusoe's Dray Line.
The Rosary was recited at the Hildebrand Funeral Home for Leizime on March 10. His funeral services were held at St. Mary's Church; Fr. Arthur F. Shank officiated. He was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery.
The local paper wrote in an editorial a few days after his passing that his death "...removes from the Rhinelander scene a colorful figure." Noting his service to the logging museum in the later years of his life, "He did a lot of good public relations for the community and for the entire area with his stories of the old lumbering days told to visitors to the museum."
His wife, Sophia Hebert Brusoe, was born on December 24, 1871 in Canada; she died on May 17, 1964. Both Leizime and Sophia are buried in the Nativity of Our Lord Parish Catholic Cemetery in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
A year after his death, Lola Beers Deyo wrote a tribute to Lazieme Brusoe. It is presented here as it was published so the reader can enjoy the sentiment of the author and their local fiddler.
"Lazieme Brusoe and Rhinelander belong to each other for all time—A little guy with a twinkly eye and a Frenchman's feathers in his feet. He had, above all, a magic way of drawing his bow across a violin. He had the gift of sending fort color and tone patterns ... it wwashis, and his alone. He captured beauty from the early northern timberland ... he knew our old Wisconsin river when it madly romped through a disorder on rocks ... he loved the wanigan days, the river — boatmen's songs ... he caught the whisper of tall pines which then grew to the water's edge!
Credits & Sources
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