In the early 1920's my grandmother Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta and her family, living in Los Angeles, befriended Charles O. Roos and his wife, Jaunita E. Roos. The family connection was certainly enriched by Catalina's friendship and professional relationship with Jaunita. Catalina (1904-1991) was then a twenty year old classical pianist and the featured pianist at concerts the Roos organized. My grandmother spoke with admiration regarding Juanita's musical abilities. Charles, an Easterner, moved to Los Angeles and worked as a newspaper feature writer when not involved with his work as a lyricist. His wife Juanita was a gifted pianist. They collaborated to create a variety of piano compositions. Charles also wrote poems and lyrics for other composers' music. The concert program for the event at the Ramona Convent in Alhambra, California illustrates the typical concert Roos organized. Nordskog Records recorded the concert. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of that recording or know of it's existence.
Sifting through my Grandmother's photo albums I found several photos of Charles and Juanita. The photos of the people in the Native American outfits are my grandmother Catalina, and Chief Yowlache, dressed in traditional Native American Indianclothing for publicity photos that Roos used in his concert promotions. Chief Yowlache was the "Indian baritone" for the program. Catalina accompanied him and also played solos.
During a time of escalating social injustice, Juanita and Charles Roos were creating musical compositions that celebrated different cultures. Though women had only just received the vote, and womens rights were often negated, Charles Roos publicly acknowledged his wife Juanita's contributions, including her name on compositions they collaborated on. The concert program at the Alhambra Convent School illustrates that the Roos were actively promoting the beauties of the Native American Indian and Hispanic culture to the elite of the dominant Anglo society. Understanding the political climate within which my grandmother was making her musical contributions to culture increases my admiration for her artistry and strength. She steadfastly dedicated herself to excellence in her art form and understood the symbolic importance of her image as a intelligent and accomplished Hispanic woman when many minds were closed to the idea of such a person existing.
I searched the internet for more information about the Roos and found an interesting essay. I've included an excerpt with a link back to the original author. You'll recognize the name "Lieurance" in the Composer/Lyricist column of the concert program. I've also included some links to historical documents that record the political culture of the era. The following excerpt sheds light on Roos connection to like minded Anglo intellectuals during this time.
Excerpt of an essay by Linda Marsh Helfman,© 2007 (The Photos are mine) http://polleymusic.lincolnlibraries.org/History.htm
"His (Lieurance's) interest in tribal music began in 1902 with a visit to his brother who was an Indian Agent on the Crow Reservation in Montana. From that time he began a life-long fascination with the music and customs of the Native Americans. He visited over 30 reservations and amassed a collection of several thousand recordings and transcriptions as well as a large number of Indian flutes. He also invited Native Americans to his studio in Lincoln for some of the recording sessions. It was often difficult to coerce the Indians into performing for his recording machine, but his understanding and patience with tribal ways won them over. He had an enormous respect for the people and had learned a great deal from the Native American wives of two of his brothers. Much of his vast collection now resides in the Smithsonian Institution, the New Mexico Museum, and the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress.
Lieurance drew upon Native American melodies for many of his own compositions which he then clothed in what he called the "harmonizing which our ears demand'. His most famous piece is "By the Waters of Minnetonka". It was first published in 1913, and became the number one sheet music hit of its day, with many subsequent published arrangements. It was performed and recorded by some of the leading musicians of the era and enjoyed world-wide popularity.
In the early 1920s Charles O. Roos, a feature story writer for a Los Angeles newspaper, happened to read about Lieurance and his work with Native American music. In his younger days Roos had been a woodsman and raftsman on the St. Croix River and had written poems based on his experiences with the local tribes there. He realized that Lieurance was the right person to set the poems to music. The two of them met and decided to travel together in the Chippewa forest country of northern Minnesota in order to gather additional material and inspire themselves further. Using thematic material from Chippewa homeland, rain dance, ceremonial, and mourning songs, Lieurance composed music for Roos' poems, and the result was the "Eight Songs From Green Timber" song cycle which appears in this collection." © 2007Linda Marsh Helfman
Photos: copyright 2008, Cristina Acosta. Photo of single woman, Catalina Ortiz Acosta in the 1920's. Photo of Charles O. Roos and his wife Juanita Roos (inscribed to my grandmother, Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta). Photo of Charles O. Roos with a paddle.