After more than a year of undergoing a complete restoration by JL Weiler Inc. in Chicago, the Orpheum’s Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ has returned to Memphis.
In conjunction with the Orpheum’s 92nd birthday, the theater will host a free homecoming celebration for the organ, built in 1928, on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.
“Back in 2017, Memphians answered the call to restore our crown jewel,” said Brett Batterson, Orpheum president and CEO.
“We can’t wait for Memphis to hear and experience what their generosity has provided. And we look forward to utilizing this instrument even more throughout the years.”
The public will get to hear the organ at a free limited capacity concert where attendees will learn tales of the Wurlitzer’s legacy, listen to 1920s tunes and enjoy live accompaniment to scenes from Buster Keaton’s hit silent film “The Cameraman.” This event will feature local historian and organist Vincent Astor, Orpheum house organist Tony Thomas, and will be hosted by Batterson.
“We can finally play it like the instrument it was intended to be – a unit orchestra,” said Thomas. “To finally hear all of the voices available to this instrument was thrilling and brought me great joy.”
“I have been playing this organ for a long time,” said Astor. “It now sounds better than it has since it was brand new. Probably even better than when it was brand new. It is truly astonishing.”
For more information and registration for the free event, visit orpheum-memphis.com. The event has limited capacity to ensure socially distanced seating.
For a complete overview of the Orpheum’s COVID-19 procedures and practices established under the Shelby County Health Department’s guidance, visit orpheummemphis.com/covid19.
About the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ:
The Orpheum’s Mighty Wurlitzer Organ was built in North Tonawanda, New York in 1928 and was shipped to the Orpheum on September 25th of that same year. The $19,000 instrument was originally purchased to play for vaudeville shows and silent movies and was most recently enjoyed by patrons through the Orpheum’s annual Summer Movie Series. After a study of the organ was commissioned by the Orpheum Theatre Group and completed by JL Weiler, Inc. of Chicago, the nation’s most noted restorer of theatre organs, it was determined that approximately $500,000 worth of rebuilding was needed to fully restore the instrument. They estimated that without the major improvements the organ would have been inoperable within the next year and a half. Generous Memphians then rallied to “Save the Wurlitzer” in 2017. In June 2018, the organ was packed up and shipped to Chicago for a full restoration. It is a registered 3 manual, 13 rank 240 style Wurlitzer. Its horseshoe console rests on its own hydraulic lift that can raise or lower it out of the orchestra pit. Noted organists have included Vincent Astor, Bill Oberg, Art Hays, John Hiltonsmith, Milton Slosser, Tony Thomas and more.