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1 min read

What the heck is Julia LeBeau playing?

Miss LeBeau’s tin can xylophone was donated to the Museum in 1994 by her good friend Charles Ridenour who believedit needed an appropriate home.We agreed!

Julia LeBeau (1903-1994) was the daughter of George and Nettie LeBeau, owners of a Bloomington music shop. In 1906 she decided she wanted a xylophone, but her father didn't want to spend the money — he didn't think she'd stick with it. Instead, he built this tin-can xylophone for her, using fruit, fish, and vegetable cans purchased from a downtown Bloomington grocery.The xylophone includes two tomato cans from the Bloomington Canning Company.

Julia quickly became an accomplished player, giving her first public performance in the St Louis area when she was just 6 years old.She went on to become an accomplished xylophone, saxophone, and violin player, teaching music professionally at her father's music store until it closed in 1952.She also continued to perform on her tin can xylophone, giving concerts across the United States up into her 80s. Programs were always finished with a patriotic tune.Her most famous performance was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1988.During rehearsal, the band couldn't get the tempo right.Julia told Doc Severinsen to step aside and after one instruction from Julia they got it right.Doc was very surprised and impressed that she was such an accomplished musician.

Click here to view LeBeau's performance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (youtube)

(make sure you turn up your speakers, the audio is soft on the video!)