Liberace

Best Known for his extravagant stage shows and flamboyant costumes, The late, great American Pianist Liberace was born 16th May in 1919. In a career that spanned four decades of concerts, recordings, motion pictures, television and endorsements, Liberace became world-renowned. During the 1950s–1970s he was the highest-paid entertainer in the world and embraced a lifestyle of flamboyant excess both on and off the stage. Liberace was born in West Allis, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb, his father was a musician who played the French horn in bands and movie theaters and encouraged music in the family. Liberace began playing the piano at four and his father took his children to concerts to further expose them to music, Liberace’s prodigious talent was soon spotted. He memorized difficult pieces by age seven and studied the technique of the famous Polish pianist and later family friend Ignacy Paderewski who he met backstage at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. He dreamed of following in Ignacy’s footstep, which inspired him to practice with even greater fervor.Liberace focused fiercely on his piano playing and blossomed under the instruction of music teacher Florence Kelly who guided his musical development for ten years. He gained experience playing popular music in theaters, on local radio, for dancing classes, for clubs, and for weddings. He played jazz with a school group called the “Mixers” in 1934. Liberace also performed in cabarets and strip clubs, and even though his parents did not approve, he was earning a tidy living during hard times. For a while he adopted the stage name “Walter Busterkeys” and also showed an interest in draftsmanship, design, and painting, and he became a fastidious dresser and follower of fashion and was showing a knack of turning his eccentricities into attention-getting virtuesIn a formal classical music competition in 1937, Liberace was praised for his “flair and showmanship”.

At the end of a traditional classical concert in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1939, Liberace played his first requested encore, “Three Little Fishes”, in the style of several different classical composers. The 20-year-old played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra , performing Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, for which he received strong reviews. He also toured in the Midwest. Between 1942 and 1944, Liberace moved away from straight classical performance and reinvented his act and started featuring “pop with a bit of classics” or as he also called it “classical music with the boring parts left out.”by the mid- and late 1940s, he was performing in night clubs in major cities around the United States, largely abandoning the classical concertgoer. He changed from classical pianist to showman, unpredictably and whimsically mixing serious with light fare.In 1944, he made his first appearances in Las Vegas, which later became his principal performance venue. He was playing at the best clubs, finally appearing at the celebrated Persian Room in 1945. During this time, Liberace worked tirelessly to refine his act. He added the candelabrum as a signature prop and adopted “Liberace” as his stage name.

He dressed in white tie and tails to be better seen in large halls. Besides clubs and occasional work as an accompanist and rehearsal pianist, Liberace also played for private parties. By 1947, he was billing himself as “Liberace—the most amazing piano virtuoso of the present day.” he also bought a rare, over-sized, gold-leafed Blüthner Grand, which he hyped up in his press kit as a “priceless piano”. He also performed with an array of other extravagant, custom-decorated pianos, some encrusted with sequins and mirrors.Liberace also created a very successful publicity machine which helped rocket him to stardom.Despite his success in the supper-club circuit, his ambition was to reach larger audiences as a headliner and a television, movie, and recording star. Liberace began to expand his act and made it more extravagant, with more costumes and a larger supporting cast. His large-scale Las Vegas act became his hallmark, expanding his fan base dramatically, and he became very wealthy in the process.

Liberace moved onto television and had guest appearances on The Kate Smith Show & Cavalcade of Stars, However he soon wanted his own show, and His first show on local television in Los Angeles was a smash hit, earning the highest ratings of any local show. The fifteen-minute network television program, The Liberace Show, began on July 1, 1952. Liberace learned early on to add “schmaltz” to his television show and to cater to the tastes of the mass audience by joking and chatting to the camera, as if performing in the viewer’s own living room. He also used dramatic lighting, split images, costume changes, and exaggerated hand movements to create visual interest. His television performances also featured enthusiasm and humor and his musical selections were broad, including classics, show tunes, film melodies, Latin rhythms, ethnic songs, and boogie-woogie.In 1956, Liberace had his first international engagement, in Havana. which He followed up with a European tour later that year. In 1960, Liberace performed at the London Palladium with Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr at the Royal Variety Show. In 1964 Liberace returned to Las Vegas, and, upping the glamour and glitz, he took on the sobriquet “Mr. Showmanship”.

The costumes became more exotic (ostrich feathers, mink, capes and huge rings), entrances and exits more elaborate (chauffeured onstage in a Rolls-Royce or dropped in on a wire like Peter Pan), choreography more complex (involving chorus girls, cars, and animals), and novelty acts.Liberace’s energy and commercial ambitions took him in many directions. He owned an antiques store in Beverly Hills, California and a restaurant in Las Vegas for many years and even published cookbooks, In addition, he had a line of men’s clothing, a motel chain (Liberace Chateau Inns), a shopping mall, and other enterprises. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Liberace’s live shows were major box office attractions in Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Hilton and Lake Tahoe. He maintained homes in both places. Always kind to animals and children, Liberace incorporated them into his shows and helped talented youth through his Liberace Foundation, whose works still continue.Liberace’s final stage performance was at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on November 2, 1986. His final television appearance was on Christmas Day that same year. He died at the age of 67 on February 4, 1987 , from “Cytomegalic Virus having been in ill health since 1985 with emphysema from his daily smoking off-stage, as well as heart and liver troubles. Liberace’s body is entombed in Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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