Dick Leibert - the legendary organist at New York City's famed Radio City Music Hall

Dick Leibert at the console, © Radio City Music Hall

Richard Leibert, or "Dick Leibert" as he was popularly known, was the chief organist at New York City's Radio City Music Hall from the day the famous showplace opened on December 27, 1932, until his retirement in 1971. Playing the behemoth, 4-manual, 58-rank Wurlitzer pipe organ, the largest Wurlitzer theater organ in the world, he delighted audiences with his thrilling arrangements of familiar songs. On our Sacred Classics program, we have featured two of his most popular albums recorded at Radio City in the 1960s: The Hymns America Loves Best and Christmas at Radio City Music Hall with Dick Leibert. His imaginative arrangements employ the techniques of the virtuoso organist, such as melodic reharmonisations and modulations into different keys, and even syncopation.

The White House East Room and "Gold piano" in 1926, when Dick Leibert entertained Pres. Coolidge (Library of Congress)

When barely out of his teens, Dick Leibert began playing the piano and theater organs for appreciative audiences. After studying organ and piano at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory in the early 1920s (where another organ legend, Virgil Fox, would study organ a decade later) he began playing the organ at the ornate Loew's Palace Theatre in nearby Washington, DC. While in the Nation's Capitol, he was a favorite of President Calvin Coolidge, who invited him to play the "Gold Piano" for concerts in the White House East Room. He later became organist at another Loew's theater, the Penn, in Pittsburgh from 1927 to 1932.  

The Radio City organ console, © American Guild of Organists

Once in New York at Radio City Music Hall, he performed almost daily as chief organist, with other organists assisting. For many years, he also had a daily radio program of organ music on the NBC network, as well as making many popular phonograph records. Listen to ''It Came Upon the Midnight Clear'', an example of Dick Leibert's inspired modulation/transposition technique:

And a syncopated, reharmonised, and transposed version of Good King Wenceslas on the Radio City Music Hall organ — an example of Dick Leibert's spellbinding renditions of familiar tunes that so enthralled and delighted audiences for almost a half century. No wonder people marvelled at how he brought music alive!

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The recordings ''It Came Upon the Midnight Clear'' and ''Good King Wenceslas'' © 1963 Sony Music Entertainment.
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