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August 7: The Mouth Organist

August 7, 2013

adler7Harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler died in London at age 87 on this date in 2001. Adler taught himself his instrument at age 14 and promptly won a contest with his rendition of Beethoven’s “Minuet in G.” He took his prize money and ran away to New York, where he met Rudy Vallee and was invited to play in a musical produced by Flo Ziegfield. Adler and Paul Draper, who danced to his accompaniment, were blacklisted for alleged Communist sympathies in the U.S. after 1948 (“”I can’t understand Marx,” he later said. ”Communist literature, brochures and stuff didn’t mean anything to me.”) Adler took his wife and family to England, where he was a well-established star, and lived there for the remainder of his life. Adler played by ear in the early part of his career, not learning to read music until he was already a successful concert performer. To see him performing Gershwin’s “Summertime” with Itzhak Perlman, look below.

“Better be a lonely individualist than a contented conformist.” —Larry Adler