FAMOUS U.S.A. ELECTRONIC ORGANISTS
Updated July 2010
Click on your favorite organist listed in blue to learn more.
1. Don Baker (1903-1989) – Famous theatre organist who did many concerts on the Conn organ.
2. E. Power Biggs – Did some performing on Allen organs.
Classical pipe organist.
3. Diane Bish – Ms. Bish is widely known for her television program The Joy of Music, where she played organs
from all over the world. It was reminiscent of E. Power Biggs recording internationally on world
famous organs. She was the organist at Choral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale,
Florida. The Allen Organ Company developed a series of Renaissance model organs to Ms.
4. Gaylord Carter – Another of the theatre greats. Rudy Vallee purchased one of the first Hammond Model A
organs in 1935. During World War II, Gaylord Carter purchased the organ from Mr. Vallee to
play shows for the U.S.O. After the war, Mr. Carter recorded many 78 r.p.m. records on it.
The organ was converted to a Model AV, replacing tremulant with vibrato.
5. Dave “Baby” Cortez – Used a Lowrey on The Happy Organ and a Hammond on Rinky Dink.
6. Floyd Cramer (1933-1997) – Famous country pianist. He made two records on organ that were not favored in
the organ world. The first was on a Seeburg organ and the second on a Hammond.
7. Jesse Crawford
Born: 2 December 1895, Woodland, California Died: 27 May 1962, Los Angeles, California -
Cerebral Hemorrhage. Theatre Pipe Organ/Hammond Organ
8. Jackie Davis (Born December 13, 1920; Died November 15, 1999, Jacksonville, Florida) – He was the first
musician to popularize jazz on the Hammond organ, well before Jimmy Smith appeared on the
scene. He operated a jazz organ school in Chicago, Illinois.
9. Lenny Dee
Born 5 January 1923, Chicago, Illinois. Died 12th of February 2006.
Hammond Organ “Plantation Boogie” - 1955)
10 .Joey DeFrancesco Joey DeFrancesco is considered to be the finest jazz organist today, his mentor was Jimmy
Smith. His father, “Papa John” is also an organist.
11. Artie Dunn
(1922-1996) Organist for The Three Suns, he used a Hammond organ. Their two big hits were
Twilight Time and Peg O’ My Heart.
12. Larry Ferrari – Many television and radio appearances and recordings with the Hammond organ.
13. Virgil Fox – Performed on Rodgers and Allen organs. His custom Rodgers touring organ was world famous.
14. Earl Grant (Born 1931 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Died June 11, 1970 Lordsburg, New Mexico) – Hammond
organist who made regular guest appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. His famous recordings
were Swingin’ Gently, More and Ebb Tide. He also sang some numbers; his vocal rendition of
The End (of a Rainbow) was very famous. He was tragically killed in a car accident at age 39.
15. Ken Griffin
Born 28 December 1909, Columbia, Missouri. Died 11 March 1956, Chicago, Illinois – Heart
Attack Hammond Organ/Wurlitzer Organ/Conn Organ “You Can’t Be True, Dear” - 1948.
From the Alan Ashton Series "Organ Celebrities"
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK-_RJtH6IY&feature=related Part One.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9lRZ3G6nkI Part Two.
16. Tom Hazelton
(1942-2006) Tom Hazelton was a very active organist in both theatre and church playing.
Having worked with several organ manufacturers as a design consultant, he became a tonal
director for the Allen Organ Company.
17. Milt Hearth
– The first Hammond organist. He played for WLS-Radio in 1937 when that station was located
in Gary, Indiana; it is now in Chicago, Illinois.
18. Bob Kames – He operated a Hammond organ dealership in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and made numerous albums
starting in the 1950s, but became nationally famous for his 1983 recording of Dance Little Bird
(The Chicken Dance). Imagine that! An organ record popular in the 1980s!
19. Lyn Larsen (1945- ) – Renowned theatre organist who has performed and recorded on many great
instruments, including the great Sanfilippo Wurlitzer pipe organ in Barrington, Illinois.
In his early years, he performed as well on Gulbransen, but later moved to Allen. Allen
Organ Company manufactures a digital theatre organ, Model LL-324, to Lyn Larson’s
20. Eddie Layton
Born 1930 Hammond Organ
Recorded one album on a Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ, otherwise he was strictly a Hammond performer.
21. Ashley Tappin! Who was he?
From the Alan Ashton series "Organ Celebrities" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD2rlJaZIzs&feature=related
22. Merlin – Merlin, AKA Van Talbert, made an electronic Organ and Chimes Christmas album, probably
recorded in the late 1950s. He was known as “The Magic Fingers of Merlin” on his recordings and
played on Hammond organs.
23. Ashley Miller
(1918-2006) Died on Monday 20th March 2006. American theatre organist. He played Hammond
on the soap operas Love of Life, Search for Tomorrow and Secret Storm.
24. Jonas Nordwall – A great modern theatre, classical and church organist. At one time, he was a design
specialist for the Rodgers Organ Company.
25. Korla Pandit – He made films in the 1950s on the Hammond organ. Sorry to burst your bubble, he was not
Indian. His name was John Roland and he was African-American.
26. Perez Prado
The Mambo King
Perez Prado was a Cuban bandleader whose specialty was the
mambo, a fast Cuban rhumba. Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White was one of his big hits
along with Anna. He used an organ for his hit single Patricia in 1958. It sounds like a Conn
27. Ethel Smith
Born 22 November 1910, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Died 10 May 1996, Palm Beach, Florida.
Hammond Organ “Tico Tico” - 1944
28. Jimmy Smith
Died February 8, 2005 at age 79. The foremost American jazz organist. He made the Hammond
B-3 the standard jazz organ.
29. Ralph & Buddy Bond
From the Alan Ashton series "Organ Celebrities" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBSt-QxOat8&feature=related
30. Walt Strony (1955- ) – A widely known theatre and classical organist from Chicago, Illinois. He studied with
Al Melgard, Dr. Herbert L. White and Karel Paukert. Walt Strony has also concertized
for the Allen Organ Company.
31. Booker T (& the MGs)
– Used a Hammond M-3 on Green Onions.
32. Walter Wanderley
(1932-1986) Brazilian organist who came to the United States. His 1966 recording of
Summer Samba hit the charts with his lively Latin-jazz flair. His second hit was The Girl
From Ipanema. He recorded in the U. S. for several years renewing the country’s love of
the bossa nova and samba.
33. George Wright
– Played on Conn organs and owned a Hammond X-66. August 28, 1920-May 10, 1998
Theatre Pipe Organ/Conn Organ.
From the Alan Ashton series "Organ Celebrities" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PE5dIcq9vk&feature=related
34. Leroy Lewis (1935-2000)- American Organist. He installed a large Wurlitzer at the Panama Hilton Hotel andWith thanks to Marius Sorbello for this information.
another at the Surf City Hotel in New Jersey. He played with Ray Bohr on Radio City's
Wurlitzer for a concert tribute to Dick Liebert.
From the Alan Ashton series "Organ Celebrities" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfRDM86icMI&feature=related
35. Buddy Cole Born: December 15, 1916, Irving, Illinois
Died: November 5, 1964, Hollywood, California
Buddy Cole was one of the most famous organists in the country. He started work as a theatre organist in 1934 later working with several big bands. Mr. Cole then went to Hollywood and worked as a studio musician backing such performers as Tony Martin, Bing Crosby, Phil Harris and Nat King Cole. He played piano in Judy Garland’s A Star is Born, and played the organ for the popular radio and television game show Truth or Consequences.
In the early 1960s, Buddy Cole built a studio in his Hollywood home and installed an 18-rank Wurlitzer with a 9-rank Robert Morton. He made two albums on this organ. He can be heard on the ATOS web site http://www.atos.org/recordings/ demonstrating the various organ stops using this studio organ.
Although most of his work and his main love was the pipe organ, he also played on the Hammond organ. A very little known fact is that Buddy Cole was the Hammond organist on Henry Mancini’s famous recording of Mr. Lucky.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, I heard Buddy Cole’s music on the radio more than occasionally. His death was a great loss to the organ world.
Special thanks to John McCall for much of the information about Buddy Cole.
36. The Magic Organ – Jerry Smith recorded under the name The Magic Organ and used a Hammond Piper, Lowrey Organ
and a Hammond X-66. The Piper was used as the main organ with its auto-accompaniment and the different right hand
sounds were taken from all three organs through the use of overdubbing. This music was very popular; a large number of
albums were released over the years. One of the most popular songs was Street Fair, a polka written by Mr. Smith. An
icon song of his was The Beautiful Dishwasher, also written by him. Sail Along, Silvery Moon had full orchestral
accompaniment. Lenny Dee recorded two Magic Organ songs, Sweet ‘n Sassy and Truck Stop on his album Easy Come,
37. Orville Foster. There appears to be no personal information about Orville Foster on the internet If you know anything about him
please send it to us. The only links found on the internet are to a series of Hammond Teaching programmes, which in themselves
appear to be very good. Click on his name above to go to a PDF page.
38. Fred Feibel (? – 1978) – was organist at the Paramount Theatre in New York City and staff organist for CBS Radio even before
39. Marjorie Meinert Margerie appeared in the Ken Griffin TV series 67 Melody Lane of 1954. She ent on to produce numerous L.P.'s
and worked on radio and TV in Iowa.
40. Jack Gustafson
From the Alan Ashton series "Organ Celebrities http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMC1gu8evjc&feature=related
41. Ivan Ditmars & Alan Lasker
From the Alan Ashton series "Organ Celebrities" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tpu7tyyRhpg&feature=related
42. Leon Berry
From the Alan Ashton series "Organ Celebrities" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wzw_ySFHts&feature=related
43. Leonard Leigh
From the Alan Ashton series "Organ Celebrities" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqWYP-eJW9A
44. Georges Montalba
From the Alan Ashton series "Organ Celebrities" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqWYP-eJW9A