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Think you know Boston music history? Below are five questions to see if you’re a ready for the ninth annual “The Fife is Right” Boston history quiz show at Boston’s Old South Meeting House at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 2.
This year’s focus is Hub music—from 20th century rocker Jonathan Richman to 18th century choral composer William Billings. And what’s with that name “Fife is Right”? A guy plays a ditty on a colonial fife to signal correct answers. And “he plays a little sad song if it’s wrong,” explains Old South executive director Emily Curran.
Here’s how it works: two teams—including musician David Coffin, pianist Fredericka King, RadioBDC’s Henry Santoro, singer-songwriter Carrie Cheron, historian Charles Bahne and history tour leader Gretchen Grozier—face off under the guidance of quizmaster (and author, historian and photographer) Susan Wilson.
If teams don’t know an answer, they can ask the audience for help. “The questions are tricky. So people do get stumped. The audience plays a role absolutely,” Curran says. Plus there are true/false questions directed at the audience, with the teams having to discern the accuracy of the hive mind.
“It’s a really fun event and there’s a lot of humor in it,” Curran says. “It’s definitely meant to be a good time, not serious, dreary history.”
See if you’re up to the challenge with these five questions provided by the contest organizers:
1) What does the Old South Meeting House have in common with the Velvet Underground, Santana, Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead?
The Boston Tea Party—just two different Boston Tea Parties that happened a century apart. The Old South Meeting House was the center of protest in colonial Boston and is the place where a series of meetings of thousands led to the Boston Tea Party. Years later, The Boston Tea Party was a concert venue that was the center for Boston rock and blues shows where all the above bands—and more—played from 1967 to ‘71.
2) Known as “the hardest working man in show business,” who is the performer whose show at the Boston Garden is credited with preventing riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968?
James Brown, “The Godfather of Soul.” The popular performer was scheduled to play a highly anticipated concert at the Boston Garden on April 5, 1968, before 15,000 people. On April 4, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and riots broke out in cities across the nation. Boston Mayor Kevin White decided to allow the James Brown concert to go on as scheduled and enlisted Boston’s public TV station WGBH to broadcast it live so people could watch from their homes. Residents complied and watched as James Brown gave one of his best performances. There were no riots in Boston that night.
3) A beautiful 650-seat concert hall rests two stories below street level in downtown Boston. Once the toast of the town, it has been closed since 1942. Where is this concert hall?
Located directly under M. Steinert & Sons piano store on Boylston Street, Steinert Hall is an underground theater built in 1896. It was closed in 1942 due to new building codes made in the wake of Boston’s Cocoanut Grove fire, the deadliest nightclub fire in history, which killed 492 people and injured many more.
4) Who wrote the lyrics to the Christmas carol “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”? Hint: He became one of the most popular preachers in Boston history.
Phillip Brooks (1835-93), the enormously popular Episcopalian minister of Trinity Church. When Brooks preached, everyone listened but this wasn’t always easy—Brooks spoke so rapidly that contemporaries timed him and estimated that he delivered 213 words per minute at full speed.
5) Founded in Boston by Lawrence Berk in 1945, Schillinger House was the first school in the United States to teach jazz, the popular music of the time. What is this institution called today?
Berklee College of Music. The school’s first honorary doctorate went to legendary jazz musician Duke Ellington in 1971.