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Niche Celebrities: Musicians For Silent Film

A number of old Art Deco movie palaces across the country still feature live organ performances 30 to 60 minutes before film screenings. Some theaters occasionally feature old silent films with an organist playing his own composition as a soundtrack underneath.

These musicians have an enthusiastic following and become celebrities — although most people only see the back of their heads.

In the 1950s, with the growing popularity of television, many historic movie theaters closed. Elaborate pipe organs, which provided the live music for silent films, were put into storage. But in pockets around the country, especially Northern California, historical architects have restored a number of the movie houses to their original design, and re-installed the organs. One of the most popular brands was the Mighty Wurlitzer.

April Dembosky reports on organist Jim Riggs from Northern California.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

April Dembosky is the health reporter for The California Report and KQED News. She covers health policy and public health, and has reported extensively on the economics of health care, the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act in California, mental health and end-of-life issues. Her work is regularly rebroadcast on NPR and has been recognized with awards from the Society for Professional Journalists (for sports reporting), and the Association of Health Care Journalists (for a story about pediatric hospice). Her hour-long radio documentary about home funeralswon the Best New Artist award from the Third Coast International Audio Festival in 2009. April occasionally moonlights on the arts beat, covering music and dance. Her story about the first symphony orchestra at Burning Man won the award for Best Use of Sound from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. Before joining KQED in 2013, April covered technology and Silicon Valley for The Financial Times, and freelanced for Marketplace and The New York Times. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Smith College.