Famed theater organist Rosa Rio passes at 107
SUN CITY CENTER, FL — Rosa Rio, one of the last surviving theater organists of the silent era (and one of the few who were female), died on May 13 at the age of 107. She practiced her craft in many of the famous movie palaces around the country including the Fox and Paramount theaters in Brooklyn; she later worked for both NBC and ABC, accompanying many of the original soap operas. She was active even as recently as last year, performing at the Tampa Theatre where a memorial will be held June 5.
She was extraordinarily positive, motivated and determined. She was able to seamlessly adapt to changes in the entertainment industry (silent films, talkies, radio, TV, and finally, back to silent films). “I can’t believe that I’ve been so fortunate to have been in so many things that went out and I bounced back,” she said in 2007. Her path was not without challenges. As the only woman in the orchestra pit, she routinely challenged men who considered her to be second fiddle because of her gender. She allayed those stereotypical reactions with talent, charm and a (sometimes bawdy) sense of humor.
Read the full story at the Tampa Theatre website.
I first heard this on CBS News Sunday morning. She was around when Lena Horne was popular. Both are real Hollywood icons.
Rosa’s passing ends an era. It’s daunting to think that an era that ended in 1929 was still kept alive in 2010 by someone who lived it. In the past 9 months we lost possibly the last 3 original accompanists to silent films. We will no longer have personal recollections from these artists; the creative players who gave silents life. That is something to mourn.
Nick, did you see her play? I bet Charlie knew her quite well. I was glad i took the TAMPA tour and heard that wonderful organ.
Man, she didn’t look 107 years old.
Man now thats a story.
You can see quite a bit of video of her on YouTube. The Keaton PLAYHOUSE clips are a treasure with live audience. Nos. 1, 2, & 3 will give you the whole film. The quote that women organists were rare is untrue. Chicago alone had about 50 women theater organists in the mid ‘20s. Rosa simply out did them and out lasted them. Here age may be questionable. She did tell me she was 106 last year. And a census record I have puts her birth year as 1903, confirming that. But she may have embellished it, to make it more impressive. With her amazing career, she certainly did not need to do that! I spent a week with her a year ago, capturing hours on video. She was truly a remarkable person, no matter her years.