Rob MacKillop

Frank Littig – Early Tenor Banjo Composer

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“Songwriters! Melody for your words, one dollar.
Frank Littig, Nipomo Calif.”

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Frank Leo Littig (1878 – 1967) is a neglected master of the tenor banjo – something this page attempts to address. I came across a folio of solos by him from 1924, which I thought were definitely worth sharing with people. My cyber-friend, Marc Smith, was inspired to do the background biographical research. And so, between the two of us, here we present a snapshot of the life and work of Frank Littig.

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I have made a number of recordings of Frank’s music, including videos, below. But first a little survey of his banjo books. He was also known for various ukulele books. None of the books I’ve seen have a picture of him, and I’ve been unable to find one online. If you know of one, please let me know.

Books

The books I could find reference for, which include reference to banjo in their title, are:

Littig’s New Harmony Self Instructor : chords for ukulele, banjuke or taro patch fiddle : diagrams with notes. 1923

Littig’s New Harmony Self Instructor Chords for Tenor Banjo and Tenor Guitar. Published by The Chart Music Publishing House, 1923.
PDF file: Littig Chords

Littig New Harmony

There is also a similarly titled, “Littig’s New Harmony Self Instructor – Diagram Chords and Strokes for Banjo “C” Notation”. I’ve no way of knowing at present whether this is for Plectrum, 5-string, or Tenor banjo:

Littih New Harmony 2

Littig’s New Folio of Tenor Banjo Solos, The Chart Music Publishing House, Chicago, 1924.
PDF file of the entire folio: Littig Solos 1924

Littig Cover

Littig’s Jazzing and Ragging Tenor Banjo Method; An Easy System, Chicago, Chart Music Pub. House, 1924

Littig’s Folio of Plectrum Banjo Solos in C Notation

National Self Teacher for Banjo Chords: Chords for ukulele, banjouke, steel guitar and tenor banjo. Chicago: The Chart Music Publishing House, 1925. Brown/orange/black sunset art scene front cover, ads rear cover; ukulele, many ads inside both covers. 16 pages

Littig’s Practical Method for the Tenor Banjo, 1925 (56 pages) – I would dearly love to get hold of this edition. Please let me know if you see one.

National self teacher for a diagram system : chords for ukulele, banjuke, steel guitar and tenor banjo, 1925

National Self Teacher for Banjo Chords, 1925 (this might be the same item as the above)

Littig’s folio of solos for tenor banjo or tenor guitar, 1926 – this I would also like to get hold of.

Littig’s Comic Songs for Ukulele or Tenor Banjo”, Chart Music Pub. House, Chicago, IL, 1924, 18 pages

Single-item publications include

  • Aloha Oe farewell to thee / composed by H.M. Queen Liliuokalani ; Ukulele and banjo chords by Frank Littig.

The September 1929 edition of Popular Mechanics has a small two-line ad: “Songwriters! Melody for your words, one dollar. Frank Littig, Nipomo Calif.” And another along the same lines in 1931: “Melody For your words one dollar Frank Littig Nipomo California“.

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MUSIC

Here are my free TAB and Standard Notation pdf files. They’ve taken me a little while to put together, so I hope you treat them with respect. Frank’s music is idiosyncratic, at times simply beautiful, other times bordering on the bizarre. He clearly had a command of the instrument, and a good sense of humour.

Rita Waltz        Rita Waltz Tenor TAB

Hoola Muccu Hylo        Hoola Muccu Hylo Tenor TAB

Fussing Blues        Fussing Blues Tenor tab

Fish Scales        Fish Scales Tenor TAB

Chama Waltz        Chama Waltz Tenor Tab

Blueing The Greens        Blueing The Greens Tenor TAB

Blue Grass Blues         Blue Grass Blues Tenor TAB

Hang On Tenor TAB        Hang On

Moonlight Redowa Tenor TAB        Moonlight Redowa

The Drones Tenor TAB        The Drones

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Videos

Blue Grass Blues and Fussing Blues:

Blueing The Greens:

Hoola Muccu Hylo:

Chama Waltz:

Rita Waltz:

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Biographical Details (by Marc Smith)

Frank Leo Littig: Born 16 Nov 1878 in Rock Island, Illinois, Died 19 Jan 1967 in Newport Beach, Orange County, California.

I found Frank in the following records:

1900 Census: Age 22, living in Rock Island, IL with his divorced mother, Augusta Gehrt Littig, her mother, Augusta Gehrt, and his two sisters, Grace Augusta Littig and Mamie Atlanta Littig. His occupation is listed as “Day Laborer”.

1910 Census: Age 32, living in Denver, CO. Occupation: “Mattress Maker”. His mother Augusta and sister Mamie are also found living in Denver in this Census, but in a different house.

1918 WWI draft card: age 39, living in Los Angeles, CA, occupation: “Mattress Maker”.

1920 Census: Age 42, living in Los Angeles, CA with wife, Lulu A. Littig and step-daughter Mary L. Colby. His occupation is listed as: “Musician, Dance Hall”.

1930 Census: Age 52, living in Nipomo, San Luis Obispo, CA with wife Lulu. Occupation listed as: “Farmer”.

Spouse: Lulu A. Littig: Born 25 Jan 1881 in Minnesota, Died 15 Aug 1960 in San Luis Obispo, California.

Frank’s paternal ancestry is French. His paternal great-grandfather, Peter Littig was an ardent supporter of Napoleon, fought at Waterloo, etc. He emigrated to American (Davenport, IA) after Napoleon’s last hurrah.

The Littig family was prominent in both Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa (which are merely separated by the Mississippi River). A family home (built by Great-Grandfather John Littig) in Davenport, IA still exists and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Frank’s maternal line is mostly German, he has one Civil War veteran (Union), Grandfather Ferdinand Gehrt (1825-1916), who fought in the 116th Illinois Infantry.  Ferdinand is listed as a “Furrier and Cap maker” in the 1850 Census.

Frank had two sisters, Grace Atlanta Littig Boyer (1881-1941) and Mamie Augusta Littig Marus (1884-1959). Grace had two children, Lois (b.1903) and William (b. 1904). She worked as a “Milliner” (her grandfather’s occupation). Mamie had one daughter, Dorothy Maurus Naapkie (b. 1910) and worked in various candy factories as a “chocolate dipper”.

Update: 6 March, 2017. A note from a relative of Frank Littig:

“I met him when I was 5 years old in 1937. He was living in Whittier, CA and worked in Hollywood in the film industry. He played guitar in bands and was an extra in some movies 1935-1940 era. He was my Grandmother’s brother, my Father’s Uncle. He did write some music for movies but I don’t have any of them.”

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More videos and scores to be added.

Comments welcome:

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