So does anyone remember playing the Tonette in elementary school? I’m sure that I remember having one, and unless my memory is playing tricks (which it often does) I think I can even remember the little oilcloth case that came with it.
The small plastic end-blown flutes known as Tonettes are a simpler version of an older instrument called a recorder, and were first introduced in the late 1930s. Within a few years they were a common sight in schools everywhere. Cheap to buy and easy to learn to play, they were promoted as a way to get kids into music, and even if the whole process seemed to be a cut-rate version of the Music Man, they were very popular.
Tonettes were even sent to members of the armed services during World War II, and in later years were sometimes used for special effects in TV and radio. But there was another kind of Tonettes.
In the late 1950s, Bronx sisters Sylvia and Diana Sanchez teamed up with their friend Josie Allen and began performing as a classic doo-wop girl group. Originally calling themselves the Claremonts, they later decided to change the group’s name to the Tonettes.
It’s unclear whether the name change had anything to do with the little instruments that were then in schools everywhere, but it’s likely that the girls were just looking for a catchy name. They did continue to perform and record for several years, but even though they sold some records they were never able to get very high on the charts, and soon gave it up.
On the other hand, the musical instrument of the same name is still around.