Original Visions: the American Singer Canary written by Marie Miley-Russell copyright 2007, all rights reserved by author Published in the national American Singers Club, Inc. newsletter July, 2007
Of all of the breeds of canaries exhibited in the United States, only a very few are truly American. Of the few American breeds, only one- the American Singer- is bred for song.
Like the country in which the breed was developed, the breed was founded upon a revolutionary ideal- to breed a bird which was prized for the freedom, variety, and melodiousness of its song and also for the attractiveness of its appearance and the liveliness of its personality. The background of the American Singer is approximately 2/3 German Roller canary and 1/3 Border canary- both of these birds were the leading breeds of their kinds- canaries bred for song and canaries bred for type (or appearance) - in Europe at the time the concept of an American Singer canary was developed by a handful of women in Boston, Massachusetts.
Over seventy years since the founding of the breed, it is impossible to state with certainty who exactly the Founding Mothers of our breed were and what they were like. Tradition states that they were housewives but as most women of the day were housewives, that tells us very little about them. Certainly they were possessed of revolutionary ideals about canaries and unafraid of the challenge of creating from scratch a new breed. They were also dedicated to the goals they established for the breed and patient in their pursuit of quality Singers as the soonest any of them would have had true American Singers by following the plan they outlined was five years. (And, as any breeder of a unique strain knows, many new strains are dead-ends which result in birds which do not sing quality song.)
Very early on most American Singer fanciers were aware that birds would be sold under the American Singer name that had no genes at all in common with birds of the breed. As early as July of 1941, a Mr. L. Armitage wrote in American Canary Magazine that "as can be expected many birds will be sold as the real article, notwithstanding the sorry fact that they are not even of the stated blood union...the good name of American Singer will be smirched through this relationship. The only protection which breeders of American Singers can utilize is through the medium of show awards. Such bench winners will go on record by the organization. Thus the owners of American Singers will to a large extent protect the reputation of their goods."
One of the first promoters of the American Singer breed to appear in print was a Mr. Armistead Carter. This gentleman was referred to as a "respected old-timer" in American Canary Magazine and was apparently well know in East Coast U.S. canariculture circles at the time. It is interesting to note that in September of 1941 he remarked in American Canary Magazine that American Singers should strive as a fancy to effectively take over the pet canary market as the Roller, Hartz Mountain, and Choppers had done before. What I believe Mr. Carter was saying is that the American Singer canary should become a household name and ultimately when one thought of a canary it should be an American Singer canary one had in mind. The Singer should also possess the best qualities of canaries shown for their looks- the general idea being that the bird's physical attractiveness would be the initial "hook" that catches a potential buyer and the outstanding song then be the thing that "sets the hook".
Further reading reveals other interesting thoughts on the part of some of the earliest fanciers of the breed. Mr. L. Armitage, who was referred to earlier in this article, reappears in the March 1942 issue of American Canary Magazine to discuss the progress being made on the development of a model for the American Singer canary. A few items he refers to is the reasoning behind the rejection of certain breeds of type canary such as the Yorkshire in the development of the Singer- the concern was that the Yorkshire was tightened in the throat and breast area which would interfere with the ability of the bird to produce the vibrations necessary for song rendition. What was decided was that the "large sized modern Border canary has the required room for song rendition and together with the excellent appearance of this type we find that there is no objectionable reason for accepting it as our model except for some necessary changes to allow for inherited characteristic roller infusion."
Apparently the founders of the breed made efforts to study both voice and song to better understand the song of their birds, how to identify quality song, and how to produce birds able to sing this quality song.
In researching the thoughts and methods behind the development of the American Singer canary I was impressed with the amount of thought and careful decision making which went into the process. There was a REASON they selected a larger Border- they sought the big Border's deep chest in the belief that it would allow for better song production. Modern American Singer breeders would do well to carefully consider such issues as they debate the future of the breed.
These pioneering individuals also faced a not inconsiderable amount of criticism from their peers for concentrating their efforts on creating a "mongrel canary". One breeder attacked a writer discussing American Singers by saying that American Singer "fanciers" would end up simply producing more 98 cent birds for sale in the pet shops and not exhibition quality specimens!
More than 70 years later American Singer fanciers still hear similar comments from breeders of other kinds of canaries. Some of these breeders are fanciers of other breeds of song canaries and disparage the American Singer Breeding Plan and lack of a song standard. A certain amount of snobbery plays into much of this sort of commentary- many of these fanciers seem to believe that generations of "pure" lineage and standardized performance impart greater worth. As most Americans are themselves the result of the blending of diverse genetic backgrounds and two central American cultural values are creativity and innovation, this argument seems somewhat peculiar coming from Americans.
The American Singer canary of today is the closest it has ever been to achieving the monopolization of the pet canary market that Mr. Carter envisioned in 1941. The breed is certainly one of the most popular- if not the most- canaries in the United States today. Our primary task as American Singer fanciers is to continue to address the dual challenges of improving and promoting the breed so that the vision of the original founders can be achieved and surpassed in the near future.