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Kalamazoo Gals: the Song

Lisa Moaiery“I was standing in my kitchen, doing the dishes, and listening to Michigan Public Radio. You and this woman Irene told this beautiful, powerful story. I got tears in my eyes and I knew that I had to write a song about it.”
I’m chatting with singer/songwriter/mother/you name it – she does just about everything, Lisa Moaiery. As fate had it that morning when Lisa turned to household chores, the popular Great Lakes State NPR program, “Stateside with Cynthia Canty,” offered up a session entitled, “The best Gibson guitars were made by the ‘Kalamazoo Gals.’” Recorded a couple of weeks earlier, I recounted how I’d become obsessed with finding the story behind the wartime photo of a group women standing in front of the Gibson Guitar factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The woman I’ve come to call THE Kalamazoo Gal, Irene Stearns, shared the tale of landing her first job at Gibson in 1943 as a string maker, living through WWII, and marrying her soldier husband while he was on leave from the war.

“I just couldn’t stop thinking about the story,” says Lisa. “That it was such an important piece of history that no one knew, that the Company had denied making these guitars, it just moved me.”

Lisa set to penning the song and then contacted Irene to clarify a few of the facts. Irene asked Lisa to sing the song over the phone and both performer and listener were so taken by the experience that they agreed to meet in person.

“I was more nervous playing for Irene than I am playing in front of a crowd. I guess it was so important for me to get it right.”

Lisa did get it right. The melody could have originated in the 1940s and Lisa’s exquisite, understated, and mournful-yet-uplifting singing sets the tone perfectly. Do yourself and the Gals a favor and give it a listen:

The lyrics present the story and time beautifully, simply, and eloquently, contrasting an “average teen” with the extraordinary time:

Sweet Irene was your average teen
She grew up in Kalamazoo
She was looking for a job during WW2
Times were tough, so there were few

Then one day she got a call
From the Gibson company
They gave her a job making single strings
In their guitar factory

20 cents an hour for those Kalamazoo gals
Making banner guitars and history
20 cents an hour for those Kalamazoo gals
The long lost luthiers of Parsons Street

Well the boys came home
And took their jobs back
Cause the war was done
And that was that

They sure don’t make them like those Kalamazoo gals
Who made banner guitars and history
They sure don’t make them like those Kalamazoo gals
The long lost luthiers of Parsons Street

Nobody makes them like those Kalamazoo gals


And here’s the Michigan Public Radio story that inspired the song:


Indeed, nobody makes guitars like those Kalamazoo Gals. And no one writes and sings about them like Lisa Moaiery.