You are here

A Songbird for the Zither

Born in New York, zitherist Alberta Krader was a music teacher by profession and toured extensively with vaudeville, where she introduced zither music to thousands. Whether in the classroom, as a zither soloist or radio perfomer, her efforts to promote and preserve music lasted a lifetime. In later years she formed the Los Angeles Zither Ensemble, which was frequently called upon to perform at folk festivals and other public venues.


Alberta Krader, née Buser, was born in New York on March 20, 1886, the daughter of Ferdinand Buser, a Swiss baker, and Meta Buser, also born in New York but of German ancestry. While a young girl, the family relocated to New Castle, Pennsylvania, where here father, Ferdinand, continued in his profession, opening a bakery, with younger brother Alphonse driving the baker's wagon.

In New Castle, Alberta gained public notoriety whether playing zither solos at the local church, or singing in musical productions. Soon, newspapers were reporting on the hometown girl who was making good in Vaudeville. Traveling the circuit, she performed with the "Swiss Song Birds," in presentations of "A Day in the Alps," and as the "Tyrolienne Songbird." Her days in Vaudeville brought zither music to tens of thousands of people.

Alberta Krader, KDKA promotional photo, circa 1920s

After New Castle, Alberta moved to Bellefonte, PA. When not performing in Vaudeville, she worked as a teacher, promoting an interest in music to the youth in her community. In fact, the importance of music was expressed unanimously by participants of the Sixth Congress of the United Zither Players of America, held in 1922 in Minneapolis and St. Paul. At the gathering, where Alberta was elected second vice-president of the organization, participants unanimously supported a plea by "The Music Trades" editor, John C. Freund. Intended to impress politicians with the idea that “music is essential to development of a cultural America and not merely a luxury for the few,” the zitherists resolved to “work toward having music made a part of the study curriculum of every school in the country.”

In a parade given in her home town of Bellefonte, the Chamber of Commerce float boasted "Queen of the Zither," with Alberta sitting on top, zither in hand, greeting the community. Likewise, in 1939, she was honored to represent the zither enterprise in Washington, Missouri's centennial celebration, where she rode a float in the parade with Albert Hesse. Although interest in the zither had waned over the past several years, the citizens of Washington were no less proud of their enterprise. Albert Hesse was the last worker at the Franz Schwarzer Zither Company and in his remaining years, he was engaged solely in instrument repair and making strings.

The downward turn for the zither continued, despite the bump provided by the movie "The Third Man." Alberta, now living in California, was certainly facing into the wind in her efforts to share zither music. In the early 1950s, the Franz Schwarzer Zither Company closed. Zither clubs had dwindled significantly, with Milwaukee and Chicago remaining as hubs of zither club activity. Even so, at the annual concert of the Milwaukee Zither Club "Alpenklänge" in 1953, Alberta was there, lending star power, participating with the orchestra and performing solo.

Living in Los Angeles, Alberta was ideally situated to provide services to the entertainment industry. She taught music at the Radio Center Academy in Hollywood, and was asked on occasion to provide zither music for a movie, or to teach an actor zither basics in order to be passable in a film as an experienced zither player. Around her the "Los Angeles Zither Ensemble" formed. The group performed at folk festivals and charity events in the city.

Alberta Krader passed away in 1966, at 80 years of age. Her love of music and the zither continued through her students and ensemble members. After her passing, Jane Weidhofer and King Keyes continued to perform in public and provided zither lessons to those interested in getting started. Jane remembered Alberta's fondness for zither music composed by Hans Dondl, and how she would enthusiastically distribute the various voices of a new song to the group. Many benefited from King's "The Teacher's Table" contributions to early editions of Zither Newsletter USA and his comprehensive tutorial for the zither, Mastering The Scales and Arpeggios.




The Los Angeles Zither Ensemble, circa 1960s

Back row: Alma [?], Angela Bow, Jane Weidhofer, Mitzi Scherer

Middle row: Emmy Walker (guitar) , King Keyes, Alberta Krader, Andy Koller, Frances Koller (guitar)

Front row: Mary Leitner, Peter Walker (mandolin), Sue Scheurman






Thank you to Jane Weidhofer and Lavana Brechbiel for sharing their recollections and the photographs used in this article. Do you have a story or photograph that you would like to share with the zither community? If so, contact us.