This South Carolina Town Is the Kazoo Capital of the United States

The Mayor is the CEO of the kazoo factory. Really.

There’s just something about Beaufort, South Carolina. Old oak trees festooned with Spanish moss shade the quaint historic quarter. The words of famed Southern writer Pat Conroy seem to come alive in this place he loved so much. And the tides seem to whisper of ships seeking harbor in days gone past. But, if you listen closer, that might not be history whispering to you. It might be the distinct humming tune of a kazoo instead.

Located in an industrial park a short drive from the historic district is Kazoobie Kazoos, one of only two kazoo factories in the United States. Kazoobie makes custom kazoos to the tune of one million a year, then invites visitors to build their own during a factory and museum tour. And Beaufort’s mayor, Stephen Murray, is its CEO.

Kazoobie Kazoos
Kazoobie Kazoos

Kazoobie Kazoos opened as an e-commerce site in 1997, began manufacturing in 2001, and moved home to Beaufort in 2009. By that time, the song of kazoos had already helped Murray, a Beaufort native, to see the country outside of the tidal creeks and islands of his home, thanks to the pied pipes of musician and entertainer Rick Hubbard.

While performing regularly in neighboring Hilton Head, Hubbard hired Murray on as tour manager and assistant for his popular The Kazoobie Kazoo Show with Rick Hubbard (which invites the whole family to get in on the kazoo action), and the two set off on what they thought would be a simple musician’s tour of the United States but instead would tune their lives forever to the joy of the humble kazoo.

They never really set out to make kazoos, but as Hubbard’s show grew and evolved, he soon became one of the biggest customers of a US kazoo factory, and when that factory decided to stop manufacturing, Hubbard bought all of its equipment and decided to build the best kazoo he could, with Murray at his side. After all this time, they knew what made a high quality kazoo.

Photo courtesy of John Powell
Photo courtesy of John Powell

“We use a medical grade of polypropylene—you can drive a Hummer on it and it won’t crack—and our mold also creates a thicker, stronger plastic, which yields better resonance,” says Hubbard. Then there are 14 different colors, mix and matching for the caps and instrument bodies, and a custom, “die cut, polymer membrane for the resonator—that makes our kazoo resonate vibrantly.”

You’ll learn this much and more during a factory tour, as well as see the history of kazoos in a small museum redesigned during the height of the pandemic by Kazoobie friends and artists Boaz Frankel, Melanie Von Trapp, Charlie Wagers, and Ed Kulisek. There, you can see historical kazoos (the instrument was invented in the 1840’s), a timeline of the kazoo in pop culture (Jimi Hendrix, in fact, has a kazoo connection), and other interesting tidbits about the mini organ.

Sarah Barnwell, marketing director at Kazoobie, runs most of the tours and is proficient not only at helping people find their inner kazoo master, but also running the Instagram account like a puppeteer and building art out of kazoos, including the massive American flag featured on a wall of the museum.

“One of the questions we get a lot is "Does the noise get on your nerves?’,” she says. “We have a lot of fun but also work very hard getting these kazoos shipped worldwide. Even when a bad day happens, because sometimes they do, there is something magical watching folks play the kazoo; it washes away the remnants of a bad day.”

Photo courtesy of John Powell
Photo courtesy of John Powell

And when that doesn’t quite cut it, there's always “Lovin’ You” by Minnie Riperton, one of their favorite songs to play around the factory, with kazoo accompaniment of course.

“The kazoo is a silly instrument, and working with Rick and seeing the joy and fun that kazoos can create, it spans generations,” says Murray. “I think that today we aren’t as intentional with joy as we should be. Kazoos are counter culture, sure, but they’re woven into pop culture, from Jimi Hendrix to Jimmy Fallon.”

And the tune plays on in Beaufort, sure, a little off key, and a lot breathy, but with a hefty dose of silly fun—fun you can add your tune to, too.

A native North Carolinian, Stephanie grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, on good Southern cooking and lots of books. She received both her BA and MA in English from UNC Charlotte and was a former instructor of English and American Studies there as well. Writing has led her to some interesting places: haunted houses on lonely country roads, white, sandy beaches on the West coast of Florida, and dinner at lots of tables of Southern food, but if you get her started talking about it, it’s hard to get her to stop. Therefore, it’s best to discuss movies or gardening with her at a dinner party. She doesn’t write much about those. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Paste Magazine, The Local Palate, The Post and Courier, and The Hollins Critic.