Ken Griffin

17. 11. 1961
Philips Records Ltd,
Stanhope House,
Stanhope Place,
London W2.

News About Artists & Records (Ken Griffin)

Born in Columbia, Missouri, Ken Griffin began his musical career at twelve, studying the violin. A few years later, he became a professional, playing with Warner's Orchestra in Little Rock, Arkansas. Meanwhile,
he went to the movies and became fascinated by the organ playing of a man named John Winter.

This was in Colorado. Ken decided to see what he could do with the instrument and began the arduous task of teaching himself. He worked at this for more than a year, but at the end of that time he was good
enough to replace Winters at the Colorado theatre.

During the next four years, he played various theatres on the Paramount-Publix chain through the Rocky Mountain area. When in 1930 sound films replaced the organists in the movie houses Ken came upon lean
years, six of them, until 1936 when a portable organ was developed.

Now it was possible for him to take his music into spots where the organ had never been before and until he entered the army in 1942 he was kept busy in and around Chicago. With his entry into the services,
Ken was assigned to special Services and sent to Camp Berkley, Texas. At this camp there were nine chapels, each with an organ, and in time Ken came to be barred from each of them. Authorities objected to his
playing swing organ around midnight, and here one or two who felt that a chapel organ should not be used for secular music anyhow. So Ken was asked not to play, and he gave up his hope of playing at regular
Sunday services.

Upon discharge, he immediately went back to solo work. He played the Sheraton and Albert Pick Hotel chains, and then moved to Broadway with an engagement with Jack Dempsey. After this he went back to
Chicago, and in a casual moment turned out a record called "You Can't Be True, Dear" that sold well over a million.

Within one year he made two appearances at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago. He also did many radio and TV appearances and until his death enjoyed unparalleled popularity with his straightforward organ stylings.

Feb. 2013. My Thanks to Wilfred Hostelnd for finding this photo on the Internet and passing it onto me. It is a 1961 photo taken there years after Ken's death. He would have known
 this scene and atmosphere very well. Taken From North State Street, this is East Randolf Street looking west in Chicago's theatre land. Along with the Oriental theatre is the front
of Allgauers Heidelberg night club,  here Ken spent many years entertaining the public and is also where he had his fatal heart attack in 1956. The front is still there today but only a
fascade for the modern building  that has been built behind it. The Heideberg is now a small cafe. It is intereting to learn that the shop onnthe right of Heidelberg was a Pet Shop.

Esther Williams and Cliff Robertson and a *David Nelson are appearing in the 'Big Show', showing at the Oriental. I would think that the Heidelberg too was open but of course, without
Ken sitting at his usual  place, at the Mother Of Pearle Hammond organ. The film was released on the 14th July 1961, which helps date this photo.

In all the times I have been to Chicago the earea on the left was clear of any buildings and was being awaiting a rebuild. This present day Screen grab (below) from Google Street view
shows that it is now completely transformed and no too different from what it looked like in Ken's time.

From close to the same spot on North State Street, this present day scene was cropped from a Google Street View screen grab. The Oriental and the Old Heidelberg fascade are still
recognisible. However,  people-wise, a totally different generation fill the scene. Taxis still serve the street.


Cuttings Sent to me by CBS Records of 799 7th Avenue, New York in July 63. From News reports at the time of his death Sent by Kirby Griffin (nephew):

Juke Box King Ken Griffin, top-flight stylist on the organ will appeal to thousands of Spokane fans at the sports show, April 9 to 24 in the Coliseum. Griffin is something of a phenomonon
on the organ. His styling of
the old German tune "You Can't Be True, Dear" hit the 3,500,000 mark in record sales.

Griffin's rise to "King of the Juke Boxes" has not occurred overnight. It started back in the 30's, but did not begin to click until the portable began to revolutionize musical entertainment in

Talent, Hard Work Talent and hard work is the yardstick for top-flight entertainers. That is the route of Griffin. There are no short cuts.

Known across the Nation, wherever there are Jukeboxes, Griffin will appear on the sports shows entertainment bill. Slated from April 19 through 24 in the Coliseum.

Griffin signed with Columbia records in 1950. His popularity then began a really meteoric rise. It started with a revival of the old favourite "Harbour Lights". This was followed in quick order
by "San Antonio Rose", "Somebody Loves You" and "The Petite Waltz".

He has come a long way from the small Warner's orchestra in Arkansas, when at 17 he played the violin.

Griffin numbers his top engagements at Jack Dempsey New York restaurant Randolph Square in Chicago, both New York and Chicago radio networks, and out-standing theatre and club
spots across the nation.

Host of Stars

He will join a host of stars on the Sports show, sponsored by Spokesman-Review Charities, Inc. More than 15 acts already have been signed and others will follow, according to Tom O' Loughlin,
show director.

But stage acts are only one phase of the big show. Huge exhibits of every type of sporting equipment ranging from boats to fishing flies will jam the Coliseum. Exhibitors will come from throughout
the Pacific Northwest and California.



By Gil Parks

Overshadowed by hometown vaudeville and the latest in talking movies, Ken Griffin, America's greatest organist, made the Colorado Theatre of Pueblo his entertainment cradle.

At 20 Griffin already had created the simple melodious keyboard style which eventually would be featured on seven million records. But amidst the celluloid fantasies of Edwrad G. Robertson and
Greta Garbo, he was only trimming on Steel City playbills.

1931 movie intermission at the Colorado meant song, slides and stage routines. To Griffin's music Peubloans sang words which flashed across the screen. His was the background beat for capering
cuties from Nelda Johnson's new dance studio. It was a $15 a week initiation, but the self-taught organist could smile as if he were already a Columbia Records star.

"His smile" is what I most remember about Ken" recalls Mrs. Fred Fair, the Gelda Johnson who then had just opened her dance school.

Griffin accompanied her first pupils as they gave their song and dance skits on the large Colorado stage. Tedious rehearsals or poor performance never seemed to bother him. "He was always jolly
and easy to work with " says Mrs. Fair. "He practiced hard but was never temperamental".

The Puebloans might remember Griffin as the cheerful newsboy who delivered their Chieftain, or as a buddy at the CF&I.

He was a friendly classmate of those who attended Irving Grade School between 1918 and 1923 or Hinsdale from 1923 to '25. When he was 16, after his parents had separated, Griffin and his young
brother Kirby lived at the Steel City YMCA.

It was then, Kirby recalls, that Ken first took interest in the organ. Brief violin training was his only musical background: but his practice in local churches soon revealed a natural, keyboard ability.

Using every spare moment for practice, he started the trail from Pueblo obscurity to national fame. It took him through the Tompkins Theatre in Colorado Springs, the Rialto in Alamosa, the Kit Carson
in Lamar. He played in Greeley, Loveland and Sterling film houses.

Later he toured Kansas and Missourie for a Midwest theatre chain, then went to Aurora, Ill. There he broke into the night club circuit, meanwhile gaining a large radio following.

He also recorded his first skating tunes, such as the "Skater's Waltz", which soon found tremendous popularity on the country's ice and roller rinks.

In 1946 Griffin's arrangement of "You Can't Be True, Dear" a recording, set a prosperous pace for the last 10 years of his life. The disc became a best seller of the decade, its 3 and a half million copies
setting an all-time mark for single instrumental recordings. It also brought Griffin a 10 year Columbia Records contract, which was renewed in 1955.

He created a steady following with his more than 100 releases. Because of those consistent sales, Mitch Miller, Columbia's popular music director, asked Griffin for new arrangements of many proven
hits. The organist relied on old favourites, presenting them with a light, steady tempo. His constant concern for melody never allowed him to add distracting frills.

To the same keyboard simplicity which Pueblo was first to hear later put Griffin in demand at the nation's best hotels, lounges and movie palaces.

He was a standard attraction at the famous  Algauer's Old Heidelberg Restaurant in Chicago, where he lived. There he played a glittering white Wurlitzer organ, specially made.

During recent years Griffin's sales leveled off in the United States. But his popularity increased in South America and Europe.

Just before his death March 11 this year he was planning his first tour of Latin American countries.

For 30 years Griffin practiced exceptionally hard to compensate for a lack of formal training. He often played far after closing hours in nightclubs and theatres. That plus many successive one-night
performances across the country weakened his health, according to his brother, Kirby.


New 01. 11. 05.

Here is an interesting publicity sheet sent out by Columbia with the sales of the Sheet Music for Ken's arrangement of  My Best To You, which Sally kindly handed out photo copies of at the latest
Dedication Show. Please note that there may well be a copyright still standing on this article so please don't use it for anything other than your own personal use and on your own computer.

FROM COLUMBIA, MISSOURI via the violin to

With one detour by command from the DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Yes, KEN GRIFFIN was.born in Columbia, Missouri and started his professional musical career as a violinist. He was 17 and with the Warner Orchestra in Arkansas when he decided to take his chances
with the organ. Within a year he
self-taught himself so well that he became house organist at the Colorado Theatre in Pueblo, Colorado. Until 1942, the date of the detour for army service, KEN GRIFFIN
was kept busy in Chicago.

People liked his style and he was in great demand. After his discharge in 1945, he went back to solo organ work, playing at leading hotels, theatres, and important night clubs. In fact, in making
personal appearances, Ken has driven over 175,000 miles with
a trailer especially designed to carry his WURLITZER ELECTRIC ORGAN, which he now plays.

Ken became a sensational international favorite with his recording of an old German tune which he re-styled in popular tempo. This recording was the best selling record ever made by a solo instrumentalist.

In 1950, KEN GRIFFIN signed an exclusive recording contract with COLUMBIA RECORDS and since that time, he has revived many well-known standards, putting them again in the hit class.

Probably the secret of Ken Griffin's amazing success is that when he meets up with a tune like MY BEST TO YOU, he goes right to work mastering a presentation that will bring out melody, rhythm and harmony
in their proper balance. "If it's a good melody," says Griffin, "it deserves to be heard, and if the song is well written to begin with, it should be presented without frills." Ken never records a number unless it passes
this test: It must have an unusually
strong melody that sings by itself and the underlying harmony and accompan
iment must be full and adequate . . . not dressed up with extraneous material. How does a
melody sing by itself? Well, take a song like "MY BEST TO YOU." Hum the melody slowly. You can feel the changes in harmony without actually hearing them played. Now whistle or hum the melody of "HIGHWAYS
HAPPYWAYS." Rhythm - and how! It carries you right along. That is what is meant by a melody that sings itself. That is what Ken looks for in a song. Having found it, he records the number with
a straightforward treatment that brings out the strength of the melody and the fullness of the underlying har
mony. GRIFFIN has been playing "MY BEST TO YOU" at all of his public appearances.

Without fail, it has been received with genuine enthusiasm. Now, he has recorded it in a faithful and pleasing rendition - COLUMBIA RECORD NO. 40254. "MY BEST TO YOU" will become an all-time favorite
on your list
of hits.


* David Nelson. 1936-2011. Producer of The Adventures of Ossie & Harriet.


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