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Music Hoaxes
Mamoru Samuragochi (the Japanese Beethoven), 2014
When Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi went completely deaf at the age of 35, he continued to compose music, explaining that he was able to do so because of his "absolute pitch." He composed some of his most popular works while deaf. On account of this, he was often referred to as the "Japanese Beethoven." But in 2014 it was revealed that all the music attributed to Samuragochi since 1996 had actually been ghostwritten by Takashi Niigaki, a part-time lecturer at the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo. Nor was Samuragochi deaf. He was merely slightly hearing impaired. He had been faking deafness in order to enhance his mystique. [New Yorker, Wikipedia]
Joyce Hatto, 2007
Joyce Hatto was an English pianist who rose to prominence in the year preceding her death. Her talent had only been discovered very late in her life, when she was in her seventies. She was noted for being able to masterfully play a wide variety of works, including compositions by Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. However, she never played in public. Recordings of her performances were produced by her husband from a private studio. But in 2007, a few months after her death, a critic for Gramophone magazine discovered that none of the recordings attributed to Hatto were actually performed by her. Her husband had been taking recordings of other pianists and claiming they were recordings of his wife. [New Yorker, Wikipedia]
Milli Vanilli, 1990
Rob and Fab of the pop duo Milli Vanilli rocketed to stardom on the strength of catchy singles and their sex appeal. But their act was a carefully orchestrated sham. In reality, the two possessed no musical ability. They couldn't play instruments, write music, or sing. All of their songs had been recorded by professional musicians. On stage, the duo lip-synched the words. Embarrassed by the situation, Rob and Fab confronted their producer, insisting he allow them to sing on their next album. The producer wanted none of this, so instead he blew the whistle on them. The humiliation of this public revelation effectively ended their careers. More…
Billy Tipton, 1989
When Billy Tipton got his start in jazz during the 1930s, he made a name for himself as a saxophone and piano player. During the 1950s, he formed his own group, the Billy Tipton Trio (shown in the thumbnail, with Tipton in the center). He had a number of wives and adopted three sons. So when he died in 1989 at the age of 74, it shocked almost everyone to learn that Billy Tipton was a woman. Even his wives claimed not to have known his true gender. He guarded the secret so closely, that he even refused medical treatment for the bleeding ulcer that killed him because doing so would have required disclosing his gender to the hospital staff. More…
Paul is Dead, 1969
In the Fall of 1969 a rumor swept around the world alleging that Paul McCartney, singer and bassist for the Beatles, was dead. In fact, that he had died three years ago on November 9, 1966 in a fiery car crash while heading home from the EMI recording studios. Supposedly the surviving band members, fearful of the effect his death might have on their careers, secretly replaced him with a double named William Campbell (an orphan who had won a Paul McCartney lookalike contest in Edinburgh). However, they also planted clues in their later albums to let fans know the truth, that Paul was dead. More…
The Strange Case of Piotr Zak, 1961
On June 5, 1961, BBC radio broadcast a 12-minute documentary on its Third Programme network about an "exciting new, imaginative, young Polish composer" called Piotr Zak. The documentary included the airing of one of his works titled "Mobile for Tape and Percussion." Two months later, the BBC confessed that Piotr Zak didn't exist. A BBC spokesman explained, "We dragged together all the instruments we could and went around the studio banging them… It was an experiment to demonstrate that some contemporary compositions are so obscure as to be indistinguishable from tapes of percussion played at random." [wikipedia]

Fritz Kreisler’s Lost Classics, 1935
During the early twentieth century, Fritz Kreisler was considered to be one of the leading violinists of his time. Part of his popularity stemmed from his rediscovery of many 'lost classics' by famous composers. He explained he had found these works tucked away in libraries and monasteries throughout Europe. He would play these lost classics (which included pieces by masters such as Pugnani and Vivaldi) during his concerts, much to his audiences' delight. This became a signature part of his act. Over time many of these works became popular in their own right and entered the repertoire of other performers besides Kreisler. More…
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.