A George Wright Discography by Tom Custer
An Assemblage of Tributes
To the Memory of George Wright
August 28, 1920-May 10, 1998
George Wright was well known across the country as evidenced by the appearance of obituaries in many major newspapers including "The New York Times". The following appeared in the "San Francisco Chronicle " on June 1st and is reprinted courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle.
George Wright, one of the last of the great theater organists of the Golden Age of movies, died of heart failure May 10 at Glendale Memorial Hospital near his home in the Hollywood hills. He was 77.
Best known for his virtuoso performances on the huge Wurlitzer theater pipe organs at the famed Fox Theater on Market Street and the ornate Parnmount Theaters in both New York and Oakland, Mr. Wright was in constant demand during the 1940s,'50s and early'60s, playing at concerts and recitals around the world.
He also recorded more than 60 albums, some of which sold more than a million copies between the early 1950s and 1960s.
Born in Orland in the Sacramento Valley in 1920, Mr. Wright learned to play the piano as a child from his mother, who was a private music teacher.
He grew up in Stockton and Sacramento, where he graduated from Grant Union High School. In 1938 he had his first playing Job at a Chinese night club in Oakland called the Shaghei Terrace Bowl which boasted a 2/6 Wurlitzer. The organ was an integral part of the show snd was heard nightly on a local radio station. In 1941 he joined radio station KFRC and landed a Job at the Fox Theater, where he played to sold-out audiences during the early 1940s.
Mr. Wright later moved to New York, where he was hired as the house organist at the Paramount Theater. There, he played with many of the great Jazz and pop artists of the time, including Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine and Ella Fitzgerald.
After he returned to California, he went to work for ABC radio and television where he was musical director and live studio organist for the long-running TV serial, General Hospital. During these years, he also played countless concerts and continued an active recording career.
In 1995, he won the first lifetime achievement award from The American Theatre Organ Society. He recorded his final album last March.
Simon Gledhill, a writer for a British music magazine and an organist himself, said on learning of Mr. Wright's death: With the passing of The Living Legend of the Theater Organ a significant --perhaps the significant -- chapter in the history of the theater pipe orgen and its music has drawn to a close. Imitated by many, equaled by none, he was indeed a legendary figure, whose profound and far-reaching influence on current perceptions of what constitutes good theater organ cannot be overstated. He redefined the standards by which performances in this genre are judged, creating a new quality scale on which he immediately sssumed and (in the minds of most) retained the top position."
Mr. Wright owned a Mighty Wurlitzer theater pipe organ which was installed in his home in the Hollywood hills and played until just a few days before he died. He finished his last album -- Salon" -- just 60 days before his desth. He is survived by his son, Tom, of Hollywood. At Mr. Wright's request, there will be no memorial service.
From the "Sacramento Bee" of May 17, 1998
George Wright played a key role in reviving interest in theater organ music, according to Bob Suffel, a friend. "He was known for his very inventive arrangements and lightning fast 'stop changes,' " Suffel said.
Donn Linton of the Los Angeles Theater Organ Society said Mr. Wright's home organ "was assembled from various sets of pipes he picked up over the years. He was always swapping pipes, changing it around."
"George graduated from Grant in 1938, and helped install their theater organ, which still is operating"' Suffel said. He performed at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, the Paramount Theater in New York City, the Fox Theater in San Francisco and the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena, Suffel said.
Mr. Wright's organ recordings were distributed on the Banda, HiFi, SOLO and DOT labels. "During his lifetime he made sixty-plus recordings," said another friend, Ken Petersen. "He continued to (play at concerts) and make recordings right to the end. The good news is that many unreleased tapes have been found.... So George will continue to entertain us with his musical wizardry for some time to come."
Copyright "The Sacramento Bee", 1998
Eulogies From Those who Knew Him
From Terry Cutshall, president of Banda Records:
George Wright died peacefully on May 10, 1998, of congestive heart failure, just a few months after recording his last album, "Salon".
George was generally recognized as the finest theatre organist ever. This musical genius left a legacy of 60 years of performance, as well as some 60 published recordings starting in the early 1950's. Some of those recordings sold more than a million copies. Although the world knows George from his music, my own loss is great as George and I were best friends.
He was an exceptionally spirited and generous men who brought joy and lots of laughter into my life. I worked with him professionally for many years, and I was fortunate to be his agent and producer. The happy part of this announcement is that although George is gone, you haven't heard the last of his music, by far!
George mastered many wonderful recordings that were never released -not only theatre organ, but classical organ, piano and even spoken interviews. George himself engineered some of them. As soon as it's feasible, BANDA will begin the substantial project of issuing these performances on CD. These new releases will keep George and his music alive within us for many years to come.
From Organist Dan Bellomy:I feel like I must say a few things regarding the passing of The Living Legend--or maybe now Just "the Legend" --George Wright.
I think back to the night I won the door prize at the local Hammond Organ Society when I w as 9 years old. It was a copy of an album called "The Right Touch" by George Wright. I took the album home and played It several times straight through: hefore turning off the stereo. I was mesmerized by that sound --the sound of a wonderfully done theatre pipe organ with an absolute master at the console. It was my first exposure to TO and I personally believe it to have been the major factor in my choosing the theatre organ as my ultimate form of musical expression.
Through these years I have managed to meet George--make friends with him--argue musical points with him -and consistently be inspired by him. Although not close in the past few years, George was my friead and my mentor. Every time I spoke to him I hung up the phone and went straight to the organ --something in the conversation had sparked a new musical point.
George was a true original. Yes he loved and made use of many "tricks" of the late Jesse Crawford ---BUT, he never failed to make the musical presentation all his own before it was over with. He made you feel the motion of the music. He used whatever instrument he was playing at tbe time to convey every last tear filled ballad ---every last joy filled novelty tune, every last ounce of excitement of that broadway show medley--HIS way-- A "way" which was just another example of his love for the music and the instrument. Just like most theatre organ artists of my generation, I went through a period of wanting to play note for note George Wright arrangements and I didn't do a bad Job of it--or so he told me one time at my hometown Hammond dealership.
Years after that, he also told me that he was very proud of the fact I had managed to discover my own style and use for the instrument rather than relying on anothers inventiveness. THAT was a turning point---for me and my music---again through the courtesy of George Wright.
George was continually a musical inspiration in many many ways and his recordings will allow him to continue that inspiration for not only myself but all other people who choose to open their minds and ears to this wonderful instrument that George introduced to so many. I would like to think that many of my present day collegues would be willing to also admit tbat their own music is probably better for the fact they had the opportunity to listen to and know George.
I owe George so very much---for his inspiration, friendship and belief in my own worth as a musician. As he said in an out-take, "the session is over, let's go home." George is home. He is at peace. He knowss we are all thinking about him today---l just know it. He's probably also enjoying a libation of some sort with Jesse Crawford and Eddie Dunstedler and that ttought makes me smile!
We shall forever remember you George----we shall forever be thankful for your enrichment of our lives----musically and personally.
-- Dan Bellomy
One of the best ways to remember George Wright is through the memories of many of us who enjoyed his unique talent over the years. Especially memorable was the program at the FOX THEATRE in San Francisco, one of several "Farewell to the Fox" concerts given in the early sixties. After the Fox was gone there was a concert at the venerable SF Paramount (Granada) Theatre which had a 4/33 Wurlitzer which was recently Dedicated in a theatre in Australia. There was also the program at the Chicago in 1977 where we had to get in line on Lake Street to get into the theatre. Shortly after George Wright's passing there many messages on the organ email list: PIPORG- L and PIPECHAT. Many of these messages were very similar in the way that George Wright had enriched our love of the Theatre organ. With the permission of the authors, I'm including two of these sharing of thoughts which seem to strike a responsive chord.
From Organist Terry Charles "Kirk of Dunedin"
Concerning George Wright, a few notes (flat or sharp)...
Backing up a bit - several of flew to Detroit to hear George at the DTOC, and later to Chicago for his appearance at an ATOS convention. So, we had "met" the man, albeit briefly.
That was prior to extending the invitation to come to the Kirk. Acceptance of our invitation came about and then I begin to shiver in my well tremulated boots... "THE" legend was indeed coming to play our organ. Months went by and then I found myself greeting him at Tampa Airport.
He was a total joy to work with - we had great fun - his concerts were repeated three evenings, audiences were, of course, in awe of the talented man. His innovative playing of the Kirks organ, without second touch, perhaps should not have amazed us but it certainly did. George was to return to play the- Kirks organ on several concert occasions. One season, two interesting little remembrances,come to mind- 1) On the last evening, just prior to the opening, we discovered a blown fuse in one of the 15 hp blowers...George was as calm as he could be - "I" was nuts, for we didn't think it a fuse problem at first' requiring several pained minutes to deduce the problem's precise origin. What amazed me about George was - he kept reassuring "ME" that all would be OK - and IF NOT - he would invite everyone back tomorrow - not to worry. 2) During intermission, on the occasion of his last concert that season, he said, "You know, this organ isn't Wurlitzer- it doesn't have second touch, BUT it all works, and wonderfully so and I love playing it. I would like to be a permanent guest every year or year and a half or so"...what a treasured time his appearances were for all of us at the Kirk.
RE: second touch - While practicing he would call for me to come and watch him play something, creating his own second touch - he got a kick out of it...and I LEARNED a lot! As I said we had great fun - but the reason's for the admiration I held for this mans genius for so many years became so very obvious... -TC
See the George Wright NY Times Obituary Here
Somewhere in my "stuff" I have an autographed program from a George Wright concert.
During a winter in the later 1950"s, Mr. Wright was touring for the Conn Organ Company.. He was to play in the Memorial Hall of Dayton, Ohio. It started to snow really hard that afternoon and was surprised that my parents still wanted to drive me and my brother the 25 miles from Springfield. (It was still snowing hard after the concert.)
The main part of the organ was set up on the stage with a second sound system set up in the hallway that served as the front auditorium exit. One of the hall's security guards wondered down that exit hallway and closed the door after the program started. When at last the time came to use the second sound system, Mr. Wright start to play, turned his head to the side, looked and grumbled about the muffled sound that was coming from the hallway and continued to play as if nothing strange was going on.
Special note to electronic organ haters: This Conn Organ concert was presented in conjunction with a store that went by the initials of B H A--which meant "Better Home APPLIANCES"!
In a few months I will be taking early retirement from the world of Audio & Video Production at a community college. I am certain that the recordings of George Wright that I heard at the home of my neighbor with the Hi-Fi system, were a large influence in my choice of careers. (A good, large music system back in the mid 1950's were not common.)
Best Regards, Wally Eakins email@example.com Dallas, Texas U.S.A.
From Peter Harris,firstname.lastname@example.org
How very sad to hear of GW's passing. I was a typical Classical organ snob until I came across a copy of the Fox SF albums on a dusty shelf in the Gramophone Library at the BBC in London where I worked back in 1968. Hitherto all I had known of this "raucous" and "rather vulgar" musical genre was from Sandy MacPherson and Reginald Dixon who'se styles I utterly loathed. However listening to GW in a tiny listening cubicle in glorious mono was enough to convert me. Later I discovered his studio recording made on the Vaughan home Wurlitzer. His use of multi track techniques were impressive although these recordings lacked the magnificent cavernous accoustic of the Fox recordings.
When it was announced that GW was to visit UK in the early 70's on a CONN promotion tour I leapt at the opportunity to hear him live for I though it unlikely that he could reproduce such immaculate playing in a live performance. How wrong I was! The concert was held at the famous Granada Theatre in Tooting, itself the home of one of the larger Wurlitzer installations in this country, and I was just bowled over. His performance was electrifying (unintentional pun). His precision, accuracy, harmony, rhythm, registration were a re-revelation. We begged him for a few notes on the Wurlitzer but his contract to CONN specifically forbade this.
It was a five year wait before we heard that he was coming to England again, this time to give a full concert on the four manual Wurlitzer at the Empire State, Kilburn in North London. The theatre was going through bad times. The stalls were being used as a bingo hall and we were relegated to the dusty seats in the circle. However with his playing and his "fireside" manner he had us in the palm of his hand. Until that time I had never heard a theatre organ played so quietly, so intimately. It was yet another revelation. He made that instrument sing, talk, dance and cry; and the audience with it! We were on the edge of our seats almost falling out of the circle. I left the theatre that day utterly spellbound and thirty years later it remains a vivid recollection.
I was horrified later to read in a newsletter a number of letters criticising his performance for lack of fireworks and, amazingly, for not using the instrument to its full effect. It transpired that this was from the pop-corn and sandwich brigade who think the only position for a stop tab is "down". GW's use of full organ on that occasion was indeed rare, and the atmosphere he created thereby was unimagineably intense. What a shame those "wham bam" devotees completely missed the suspense and drama. It was the most memorable memorable theatre organ concert I have ever attended and I consider myself most fortunate.
Order George Wright CD's HERE
From Peter Harris,email@example.com
I fell in love with the sounds of the theatre organ as a young kid attending silent movies. I don't remember much about the movies themselves, but the wonderful sounds of the giant Wurlitzer organs, which accompanied the movies, left an indelible mark on my memory.
Then, in the mid-1950s, when I was in the midst of building my first hi-fi record player, I chanced to run across a magazine advertisement for a HI FI Records 33 RPM recording by an organist by the name of George Wright. At that time, I had never heard of George Wright, but the selections listed, and the fact that they were played on a Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ, said enough to convince me that this recording was exactly what I had been hoping to find to test my new hi fi.
I immediately ordered the record, and then spent every available spare minute to rush my hi fi to completion. Finally, the big day arrived and I placed the record on the turntable. It would be an understatement to say that I was not disappointed. WOW!! What a thrill it was to again hear those wonderful sounds of my childhood.
The advent of stereo and CD have made listening to the great sounds of the theatre organ an even more thrilling experience.
Needless to say, my record library now includes numerous George Wright recordings.
From: Allen White
A FEW WORDS ABOUT GEORGE WRIGHT
For many of us, George Wright was our Frank Sinatra. How ironic they both died in the same month.
George Wright allowed me the opportunity to create an event which many have said was historic. The night was Saturday, March 5, 1960. The time was midnight and the place was the Fox Theatre in San Francisco.
I was one of those enraptured by those hi-fi records of the 50's which introduced me to the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ. One of the first was "George Wright's Showtime." Recorded at San Francisco's Fox Theatre, it captured a sound which I found incredible.
It sounded great through those new stereos of the day. Yet, I wanted to hear it for myself and with Mr. Wright at the console.
For every problem, there is a solution, so they say!
On December 22, 1959, my 21st birthday to be exact, I picked up the telephone and called George Wright at his home.
His first question: how did I get his phone number?
My first question: Would he play a concert for a few friends at midnight in the next few months at the Fox Theatre?
To my surprise he said if I could find $500 bucks he would do it. A subsequent telephone call and the date, March 5, was set. Another $500 for the Fox Theatre rental and we all had deal. As I said yes to all this the only problem was I didn't have $100, let alone the rest of the money.
In those days there were these wonderful groups called home organ clubs. I began hustling up $100 at a time from each club. Along came two guys from a radio station, KPEN. They said buy out the organ clubs and they would bankroll the whole thing and we could split the profit, should there be any, 50/50.
We had a deal and the tickets, priced at $2 each, went on sale. The question, would anyone buy a ticket to hear a guy play the organ at midnight.
A few minutes after 10 p.m., the last showing for the night of "Sink The Bismark" would end. Thousands lined up around the block surrounding the Fox Theatre.
Yes, people certainly would buy a ticket. In fact, 4,700 would enter what was truly one an American "Cathedral of the Motion Picture," the San Francisco Fox, to hear Mr. Wright.
Just after midnight, the house lights dimmed and then began what I will always remember as a defining moment in my life.
From the organ chambers came the sounds of pipes recreating violins tuning up for a concert. Then the building literally shook as the sounds of 32 foot pipes were heard. A spotlight from six floors above and a full city block away, hit the orchestra pit and the sound of Berlin's "There's No Business Like Show Business" punctuated the night air. Slowly and with an awesome majesty emerged George Wright at the magnificent San Francisco Fox Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ.
"George Wright's Showtime" had come to life .
In the 38 years which would follow I would see and experience the many different sides of George Wright. He is unquestionably one of the finest musicians America has ever produced. He created musical moments which were unforgettable.
When you comment on the fullness of George Wright it would simply be incomplete to omit that he was also, in fact, not a very nice person. That is a shame. Today I still find myself pushing back some very painful and ugly memories.
To compare the music and the life of Frank Sinatra to that of George Wright is totally appropriate. Both were the finest in their field. Certainly Mr. Sinatra and Mr. Wright left a legacy of musical excellence which, though possibly equaled, shall never be surpassed. They both, it would seem, believed their music would neutralize any discomfort or pain they might cause.
Yet, above it all was their music. Anyone who loves the sound of the theatre pipe organ shall never forget George Wright. Without George Wright would we might never have ever cared about the musical sounds possible from the New York Paramount, the Fox Theatre in San Francisco, the Chicago Theatre or the Rialto Theatre in Pasadena, California.
For those who didn't understand and you can be sure that many did not, George Wright was a leader in an international band of folks with some very off the wall interests. Rational folks, many might argue, don't spend the night searching through miles of wires to find that connection which allows a single pipe to sound. We then would spend hours more to make sure that pipe played in tune with hundreds of others. Then hours more would be given to looking for music and practicing and practicing to replicate a sound which had gone out of style years before television, the fax machine or, god help us, the computer. Finally, we might exhibit our accomplishment in empty theaters before sometimes less than 20 people.
We were, and still are, a strange group trying to not let a sound we love slip away. It is a sound which, for so many of us, began when we first heard the sounds of the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ under the command of George Wright.
When I think that George Wright has died, I am sad. For me, and I suppose more than a few others, when Mr. Wright died, a part of us died also.
George, we're going to miss you.
From: Bernie McGorrey
Preface this with the ubiquitous phrase "If I hadn't heard a George Wright recording, I wouldn't be an organist today". 'Nuff said: he was the Charlie Parker/Art Tatum/Jimi Hendrix of his instrument, who set both the technical and musical standards and didn't play for other organists, but instead for listeners and his own muse.
In 1974, at age 14, I auditioned for the late Dr. Robert Elmore as a prospective student. (I was accepted, but the combination of traveling 60 miles each way, plus my parents feeding 3 other kids while having to shell out $30 a lesson twice a week for me sorta killed that.)
During my audition, I told the maestro about my strong interest in playing theatre organ, which was how I came to play the classics. Dr. Elmore then told me of a concert proposal that was presented to him for the 1964 AGO convention in Philadelphia (the same one that gave birth to the Virgil Fox plays the Wanamaker Organ recording).
The concert would use the dual-console Philadelphia Convention Hall Moller, with Elmore on the drawknobs, and George Wright at the horseshoe. Note that Elmore was probably as little given to exageration as anyone I know (he described himself to me as a "first-rate second-rate pianist", but he could play any of the Chopin sonatas with no notice). Also, Wright was acquainted with Elmore's work, as he had recorded the "Pavane" movement out of Elmore's "Rhythmic Suite" for organ on the Hi-Fi label (on a Conn electronic). So they knew each other's work, and both (at that time) reigned supreme in their genres. (Fox was well-known, but not to the degree Elmore was at that time. Nor was Elmore second to Virgil in console technique.)
Never Happened. Would have been wild if it had.
Keep up the great work!
Bernard J. McGorrey, III
From: Dolton McAlpin Subject: George Wright I had two personal encounters with George Wright which I feel constrained to share. The first occurred in 1982, when several of us from the South attended a George Wright concert at the Kirk of Dunedin. As it turned out we were staying in the same hotel where George was ensconced and we ran into him the day after the concert. He was most charming and pleasant, gracefully accepted our huzzahs about his performance, and chatted amiably with us for several minutes. Having previously heard rumors about George's "difficult" personality, I was surpised and gratified to find him pleasant that day. The other encounter occurred several years later at a theater organ seminar which he gave at Colorado State University, using the gorgeous 3-manual Wurlitzer in the Lory Student Center. Once again, George was the epitome of charm. He demonstrated various theater organ techniques, registrations, and "tricks" and patiently reproduced many portions of arrangements which appeared on his prior recordings. George mingled with all the participants and seemed to revel in the conviviality. He even encouraged all of us to turn on our tape recorders and record every aspect of his seminar. I was impressed by his incredible memory for songs. Glimpses of George's more acerbic side peeped through occasionally, such as when he said, "Eddie Dunstedter's style changed as he grew older - and drank more gin" and (to a participant who was playing for him), "Watch it, or you'll make Leon Berry sound good." One evening, after the final social event of the day, several of us were able to lure George back to the Wurlitzer for a bit more "show-and-tell." At one point I talked about his terrific arrangement of "Tea for Two" which had appeared many years ago on HiFi records, and I mentioned another arrangement of the same song which had appeared on a recording made by another well-known theater organist. Well, George whirled around on the bench and fixed me with a murderous look, turned back around to the console, and played the damndest version of "Tea For Two" which I've ever heard. It left all of us breathless. When he finished he turned around to us and said, "Screw ------ --------- (the other organist)!" Nope -there'll never be another one like him Dolton McAlpin Starkville, Mississippi
On Mon, 19 Apr 99 , firstname.lastname@example.org Wrote to us about George Wright:
The world of theatre organ lost it's true innovator with the passing of George Wright.
I met George in 1981 or '82 when the motor city chapter engaged him to play a concert on the redford theatre 3/10 Barton. Many of us wondered if George would even consider playing such a "small" instrument. Certainly he did and to this day many long time members consider that concert the best the organ ever sounded.
For years we all had heard various reports of Mr. Wright's attitude towards organ enthusiasts and especially young organists. In our experience he was pleasant to anyone who wasn't a stark raving lunatic--or on some kind of ego trip of their own. On that first visit, and every meeting we had after, George was very cordial to me. We discovered a mutual liking for French impressionist painting, a subject George knew in great depth. George was an astute observer of people and their character,and offered what I consider to this day to be good advice. Classic and antique cars have been another passion of mine. One year while taking part in the Meadowbrook Concors D' Elegance I spotted a familiar name listed in the distinguished Judges. Mr. Strother McMinn, Dean of the automotive styling school at the Art Center College in Pasadena, CA. My younger and infinitely less cluttered memory instantly recalled that he wrote the wonderful liner notes to the "George Wright Live at the Rialto Theatre" L.P. I located him in that crowd of 10,000+ people and introduced myself by saying "I believe we have a mutual friend in George Wright". Well that brought about a huge grin, thrust out a firm handshake and began a wonderful friendship. For the next half hour he told the story of his friendship with George, which started in 1940.
It seems that Mac was rather smitten with a young lady named Cathy, who worked as a receptionist at the studios of KFRC radio. She mentioned this crazy SOB of an organist who worked there. As it turns out there was a "gin mill" on the first floor of the building that KFRC occupied. It featured a Hammond organ and the organist was...George! After numerous cocktails and closing time George suggested they wander over to the Fox theatre for more music. Off the threesome went, the cleaning people let them in and george proceeded to hold fourth at the Wurlitzer, while Kathy, a dancer took to the empty stage and danced to the strains of the Fox Wurlitzer while "Mac" sat doubly enraptured in the fifth row.
Further visits to KFRC studios brought about guided chamber tours which George was only to eager to conduct. As he was stationed nearby, it was easy for airman McMinn to visit the Fox for George's intermissions. At the conclusion of World War II Mac resumed his carrier with General Motors in the Buick styling studios. The GM brass liked Mac's people skills as much as his artistic ability, and sent him to New York to be a styling liaison to the "money people" in Manhattan. This happened in '49 or 50. Mac was walking down times square one day and noticed a familiar name on the Paramount theatre marquee. Thinking there couldn't be TWO organists with this name Mac purchased a ticket, sat through the feature until intermission and heard this former acquaintance issue forth the most fantastic music on that legendary instrument. A visit by the stage door brought about a quick rekindling of their friendship. Mac confirmed the previous accounts of George's public reception at the Paramount--that his snappy,vibrant playing was wildly received. George was treated as a minor celebrity amongst the theatrical and musical communities working and living in Manhattan in this era. Mac reported that just about any one might pop into George's dressing room at any moment.
In 1951 Mac accepted a position as an instructor at his old alma mater in Pasadena. This brought Mac back to his home town, away from sub-zero winters and hot humid summers as well as the corporate rat race. The two men lost contact as friends sometimes do. Sometime in 1954 the local newspaper ran an article on Mr. Strother McMinn. George, who was back in California working for Don Lee television, saw the article, got Mac's phone number through information and called him up to catch up on things. When the topic of discussion turned to the tremulated arts george replied "I've been playing on this box of whistles over in Inglewood, you should come over there some time". This of course was the Vaughn residence, and Mac availed himself to George's offer on many occasions--including several recording sessions.
Fast forward to the early sixties-- another friendly phone call. George proudly announced that he had his own organ right in Pasadena. Mac was a frequent visitor to the Pasadena studio and recalled vividly one new year's eve party there where liquor flowed in profusion, dancing, carrying on and general insanity ensued. Mac woke up there new year's day with a severe hangover, no watch and no wallet. This was also the decade of the Rialto theatre concerts mentioned before. The two men stayed in touch, almost always a happy birthday call, a card or letter.
In the early eighties George invited Mac over to his new home in Hollywood to see his new "box of whistles". That hot Michigan summer day I realized that this individual was present at each of George Wright's landmark organs--some seemingly by fate!. As we continued to talk I realized that I was meeting a shy, warm, richly intelligent gentleman--In the very literal meaning of that over, and misused word. Here we were in the middle of what the rest of the year is a golf course, and Mac would not litter it with his cigarette butts, snuffing them out and placing them in his back pocket!. The biggest "bombshell" that he verbally dropped that day was that his personal favorite organist was Buddy Cole. Mac loved the sense of lost romance that buddy elicited from our favorite instrument. Mac made one comment about George that spoke volumes about Mr. Wright's personality traits-- "you know,George is always testing the friendship". Before we parted company that day I brashly invited Mac to come hear me at the pizza parlor that I played nearby. He diligently took the directions and such then explained that he was visiting with former GM chief stylist Bill Mitchell the following day. I felt he was extremely polite in taking this information from me, but would probably prefer to spend time with a living legend of his profession.
Lo and behold the next evening he came in, enjoyed a pizza and was quite laudatory towards my playing--especially ballads. He saw to it that my musical diet consisted of lots of Buddy Cole,via cassette tapes he would send. We met several times after that initial visit, usually before the Meadowbrook concours or the Detroit auto show. After a fine meal we would go in my car to one of the local theatres and I would play for Mac's appreciative ears. Fast foreward to 1995. Mac came to detroit for the concours as usual, and we met for dinner. he announced to me that this would probably be the last Meadowbrook concours that he would be judging, due to two strokes he had suffered earlier that year. Mac then told me he was getting his affairs in order, and wanted to know if I would like to receive his collection of organ records. I answered yes, and they arrived some time later. They consisted of the GW hi-fi records, an almost pristine copy of "Let George do it" (my 3rd in my collection) some of the Dot releases, and even a few of the old King label NY Paramount studio releases--ALL AUTOGRAPHED--each bearing warm wishes. There were 6 or so Buddy Cole records, including "Modern Pipe Organ" as well as buddy's great Hammond records.
Since that last visit Mac and I kept in touch ocassionally, usually via the mail. This past May as my then fianncée and I watched the last episode of "Seinfeld" the telephone rang. It was Ron Reseigh, a fine young organist out of Grand Rapids,MI. Ron's father is a fine theatre organist as well, and gave Ron a good appreciation of quality TO playing. Ron asked if had heard the news about George--I hadn't. A profound wave of sadness came over me. George had always been there--even when he chose not to perform on the theatre organ, and now this void in our lives. the following morning I listened to the radio while getting ready for work. the news came that Frank Sinatra had died the previous night. This came as quite a double whammy. I came to appreciate Frank Sinatra years ago for perfection in phrasing, and the complete mastery of the emotion in a song. George was his equivalent on our instrument of choice--strange that they should pass so concurrent to one another. I attempted to call Strother MacMinn to discuss George's passing, and got no answer. I kept trying for the next couple of days,but could never get through. Sometime that week I was going through some of the many antique car magazines we recieve at work. The Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg news letter had an obituary for Mac--he passed away on Jan.19,1998 from a massive stroke while recuperating from an automobile accident. The obituary, and all others I read in subsequent publications reiterated the same kindly,professional warm human traits Mac exuded.
I feel richer in my appreciation of theatre organ to have heard George Wright live in concert 6 times,and to have shared drinks,dinner and conversation with him. I'm extremely grateful for Frank Sinatra's unmatched interpretation of the great popular songs, having seen him perform live over 10 times. But I am profoundly thankful that I shared 13 years of wonderful warm friendship with Mr.. Strother MacMinn.
On Mon, 24 May 99, email@example.com wrote in:
....a memory of George Wright...
Shortly thereafter, I received a handwritten note from George! (What a thrill for an 18-year-old to hear from his idol!) George said "thanks for the note. It made my day. Make that two days!" He suggested continued piano studies for technique...
That George took time to write an unknown music student in South Dakota still impresses me. Years later, I was told by several of his friends that George spoke highly of my music... what an honor.
While stories abound about how difficult he could be, the truth is George Wright was kind and thoughtful, even to those he didn't know.
On 2 Sep 99, Debbie Lynn wrote in:
THIS memory of George Wright...
I was rather excited when I went to his next concert, as I was hoping to hear my song. When he started the second half of the show, he asked if I was in the audience because I had written him a letter and made a special request. Needless to say, I was totally shocked and terrified. When I got to the organ, he was explaining to the audience what I had asked for in my letter, although I had no knowledge of the $.12 stamp that was in the envelope. I wasn't sure why I was up there, but when he asked if I wanted to play my version of "Alley Cat" I was more than happy to oblige. I was so short I could barely reach the pedals and when he realized I was trying to play his version, he got down behind the bench and played the pedals for me. After the song, he told the audience that I had requested an autographed picture and I must have thought it was worth $.12. I not only got my picture that night but a gentleman from the audience, after the show, came up and gave me his shiniest dime and two pennies.
George was a definite impressionist with so much God given creativity that I know there will never be anyone like him!
On 23 Nov 2000, MARGOT MAINES wrote
My earliest memories of music in my home as a little girl, over 40 years ago, were that of numerous George Wright recordings which we played on our homemade HI FI with an enormous 4' x 5' speaker. I have never heard anything since that could hold a candle to that magnificent music. The Mighty Wurlitzer is indeed "The King of Instruments". It was my privilege to replace all of our old LP's with cassette editions of George's music, and when time comes to move to CD, I know where to source them. Thank God for the internet! Thanks for your attention. I would be thrilled to receive e-mail from anyone out there that can relate.
With grateful thanks,
On September 22, 2002, William Paul wrote
I was joining Douglas Aircraft Co. in 1957. I met a fellow from my home town, Birmingham, Alabama. He grew up in Homewood; another place I lived there. We struck up a delightful friendship and he invited me over to his little apartment to hear his Klipschorn 3-Way speaker. The first record he put on the turntable was one of George Wright's Hi Fi records. It blew my mind.
I have been listening to George Wright's recordings for over 45 years. They are without exception the finest musical recordings I have in my collection. Always sound fresh and modern. I was checking theatreorgans.com/cds/banda.html tonight to see what new CD's Banda has available.
We have a nice antique store in Tucson that has a modest LP record collection. I found a George Wright LP that I had never heard. I got it for one dollar. It is perfect. Not a tick or imperfection.
I has really been a pleasure to read many of the tributes to GW tonight.
He had every right to be proud of his artistry. He knew who the bad organ players were and knew them well. He could play masterly from memory after he went blind. The Hollywood Philharmonic Organ was his creation. He was proud of it and kept updating it all the time.
I now have a pair of Bose 901 VI's with Yamaha 150 W per channel amp with Yamaho Pre-amp. Each George Wright CD sounds great on that system. One of his CD's will be played at my funeral years in the future. I will compose the CD of his music that I love most.
I am proud of Terry Cutsall who is carrying on at Banda so well. His new issues are fresh and up-to-date. Each is an organ lovers jewel.
Submitted to us on 12/24/2002
From: Dorothy A. Craig
My memories of George Wright go back to his childhood. My siblings and I were raised next door to George in Stockton, CA. He spent more time at our home than he did his own. One of the most vivid memories I have of him was when he toilet papered our house to "greet" us when we returned from vacation one summer. He used a lot of paper as we had a two story house. All you could see was toilet paper. Never did figure out how he got it on the second story also. He would also go to the park with us many times. He often said he would never marry if he could not marry my sister. Although my name is Dorothy Ann for most of my childhood he called me Orothy Dan. He derived great fun in doing so. My daughter and I went to see him in Concert at the Paramount theater in Oakland, CA in the 1980's and it was a night to be remembered. He also wrote me a letter in the 1970's because my children would not believe that I knew the musical director from General Hospital. How we miss him and his wonderful music on the pipe organ. There will never be one of his talent come our way again.
Dorothy A. Craig
On February 16, 2003, Wally Brown wrote
Thank you for giving us an opportunity to tell something about our encounters with George Wright.
Being in Oklahoma City all of my life, I was not able to hear George in person, however I did enjoy his hammond playing on the Jack Kirkwood radio program from Hollywood when I was a sailor boy in San Diego. That was in 1951, and twenty years later, I was a guest of Conn organ Co. on a Carribean Cruise where George Wright was going to introduce a new three manual Theaterette. The boat was swaying in high seas on the afternoon of the unveiling, but George played on without a hitch.
A couple of nights later, he passed by the empty theater/bar where I was sitting alone at a Yamaha grand piano, and he came over to the piano and we talked and played piano until the wee hours of the morning. George was a very good piano player and we took turns showing each other our favorite tunes and our favorite way of playing them. It was a magical time of music making for both of us, and after a couple of hours of playing, I mentioned that I was a former organist for Oral Roberts, and then ensued a very sincere conversation about our faith in God and the workings of The Holy Spirit and our appreciation of the sufferings of Christ for our many sins. We talked of our appreciation for the gift of music that God had given to us, and our responsibility to share it. We both took turns playing Show tunes and gospel music, far into the early morning. The next day, George and I smiled at the thought, that nobody would believe us if we told them about the very unusual conversation and music in the bar that night. Rest in peace, Friend.
Reprinted portions from the VoxCatoe Newsletter Voice of the Chicago Area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts, June-July 1998 Edition, The New York Times, San Francisco Bee and San Francisco Chronicle, and from Contributions of Theatreorgans.com readers all with permission.
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