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.

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