Kalamazoo Gals

Monday 23 June



As part of Radio 2’s Guitar Season, Suzi Quatro uncovers the story of the Kalamazoo Gals, who made Gibson guitars during World War II, and asks why their contribution was written out of the company’s history.

Legendary stringed instrument maker Orville Gibson began making guitars, mandolins and violins in the Michigan town in 1896. After his death in 1918, the business expanded, producing a wide range of instruments that were popular with musicians for their quality and tone.

But as America was drawn into the Second World War, Gibson claimed their workforce stopped producing guitars and concentrated on making parts for radar equipment and aircraft wings to support the nation’s war effort. Adverts in the music press and the company’s official history reinforced the message that no instruments would be made until the boys came home from the European battlefield.

Suzi discovers that this wasn’t the case. As she reveals, an all-female workforce made over 25,000 instruments including 9,000 guitars.

Suzi meets some of the women who worked in the Gibson factory in the 1940s and hears stories about their time there when guitars were being made and the stars of the day called by to pick them up. Their skill, dedication and attention to detail produced guitars that were used by artists from Buddy Holly to Gene Autry and Woody Guthrie.

Suzi also hears the story of ‘the soldier’s guitar’ - a 1943 Southerner Jumbo that went with an unnamed soldier to the European battle front. The soldier survived, as did the guitar. It’s now owned by academic and musician John Thomas, who uncovered the truth about Gibson’s wartime production and the women who made some of the finest guitars he believes Gibson ever made.

Presenter/ Suzi Quatro, Producer/ David Cook for the BBC

BBC Radio 2 Publicity