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A Memorial to Harold Rhodes (1910 - 2000)

After Harold Rhodes died in 2000, I created a memorial to him that lived on the front page of this site for many months. This memorial was built from the messages that poured in from Harold's friends and family, as well as Rhodes players and music lovers throughout the world.


Press Release from the Rhodes Family

Harold Burroughs Rhodes, Father of the Electric Piano, Died December 17, 2000

Harold Burroughs Rhodes, whose invention of a unique electric piano revolutionized the sound of jazz and pop music in the 1960's, died of complications from pneumonia on December 17. He passed away at the Beverly Manor nursing home in Canoga Park where he was residing since his health began failing in recent years. Mr. Rhodes is survived by his third wife, Margit, his brother, John and his children Harold Jr., David, Carol Newman, Janice Wylie and Linda; his stepchildren Karlyn McCarroll, Mona Lumtin, Karlyn Hale, Jorjann Mohr, Robyn Smith and Merrilyn Herrera; plus nine grandchildren. Private services were held at The Little Brown Church in Studio City on December 28, which would have been Mr. Rhodes 90th birthday.

A piano teacher by trade, Mr. Rhodes spent his spare time training his buddies on the piano while going through an Army Air Forces Flight Instructor Training Course during WWII (he had also done some crop dusting). A hospital surgeon on the base got wind of his talent and asked him to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers with his quick, easy and fun method. Unable to find a piano small enough to sit on the lap of someone in bed, Mr. Rhodes decided to build one himself and fashioned it from spare airplane parts. The program was so successful that War Department asked him to expand it by writing a training manual and drawing up blueprints for them to manufacture the piano which was called a "Xylette."

After the war and a few false starts to produce then-called "Pre-Piano" on his own, Mr. Rhodes partnered with Leo Fender in the late 50's and a bass piano went into mass production in 1959. CBS Musical Instruments bought the Fender/Rhodes Company in 1965, keeping Mr. Rhodes on as a consultant, and the full 73 and 88-key versions were developed and produced until 1984 when the company sold to William Schultz. Since then many other electric pianos that emulated and simulated the Rhodes' distinctive sound came on the market, but none could match it. Though the rights sold again in 1987 to the Japanese keyboard company, Roland, no more Rhodes pianos were ever made.

Many prominent musicians brought Mr. Rhodes' piano into the limelight along with them. Miles Davis' 1968 Miles in the Sky album featured the Rhodes piano with Herbie Hancock playing the keyboard for the first time. In a May 1975 interview in Columbine magazine Hancock recalled the recording session: "When I got to the studio, I kept looking around for the piano [and] finally I asked Miles, 'Where's the piano? What am I going to play?' Miles pointed to what looked like a small box sitting in the corner. I said, 'That? It looks like a toy." Later that day, they made the first recording with electric instruments, "Stuff," and thus ushered in the new musical genre of jazz-rock.

Jazz and pop musicians loved the Rhodes piano because it was the first that could amp up without distortion and be heard with other electric instruments, but had the touch dynamics of the acoustic piano: the sound could be soft if the key was pressed softly or it could be loud if hit hard. The Rhodes piano held its tune much longer than an acoustic and the player had the power to hold a note as long as the key was pressed. This meant less silent spaces between notes giving the "wall of sound" effect. The technology of the Rhodes piano, generated by tuning fork-like metal rods called tines, is so unique that Mr. Rhodes was able to secure more than a dozen patents for it.

Other musicians who established the Rhodes sound in their work include Ray Charles, Chick Corea, Donald Fagan of Steely Dan, Pete Jolly, Chuck Mangione, Roger Manning of Beck, Ray Manzarek of the Doors, Les McCann, Paul McCartney, and Joseph Zawinul of Weather Report. After 25 years of struggle since the first piano was produced, finally the Rhodes became the overwhelming choice of contemporary musicians. Mr. Rhodes said in (CBS Musical Instruments') Insider magazine "I can hear my piano played six or seven times every half an hour on the FM station I listen to each morning" - and by then every three of four electric pianos sold were Rhodes. In 1990 Mr. Rhodes had his handprints immortalized in the Rock Walk of Fame in Hollywood and in 1997 the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences honored him with the NARAS President's Merit Award for a lifetime of dedication and inspired work as a scientist, inventor, architect, educator and musician.

A lover of jazz artists such as Earl Hines, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Art Tatum, Mr. Rhodes began taking piano lessons in his teens. According to an interview with him in a 6/15/74 Downbeat article, he was intent on "plumbing the depth of these men's minds to find the key to the inventive chord changes which seemed to flow endlessly from their fingers." Although his other passion, architectural engineering, led him to winning a scholarship to the USC School of Architecture (with a minor in music), three major events happened in rapid succession during his college years. "The bottom dropped out of the world economy, my parents separated, and my music teacher got married and decided to move to San Francisco and to turn her Los Angeles Studio of Popular Music over to me. Faced suddenly with the need to support a mother and younger brother, I elected to drop school and to accept my teacher's offer."

Seven of the original 54 students he inherited stuck with him over the long run as he immersed himself with "every book in the library which even remotely touched on the physics of music. Within three years I had it all together. I had reduced the whole subject of improvising to four simple steps. Taken in order, these four steps would unfailingly analyze the harmonic innovations of Tatum, Ellington, et al. But far more importantly, they would enable my students to come up with their own unique styles. Convinced that I had the clue to what every fledgling novice musician wanted to know, I opened and conducted successful studios in all the major cities in the West. By 1940, I had opened studios in New York and Washington, D.C.

"Then the War came along and grabbed me, and the whole thing went to pot!" - fortunately for the Air Force: by the time his program was instituted at all the Air Force hospitals, "music instruction became the single most popular elective" over many other choices. He ultimately trained more than 1/4 million G.I.'s on the piano he created and was given the War Department's highest civilian honor, a Commemoration of Exceptional Civilian Service, for "the development of a patient participation musical therapy program."

Mr. Rhodes himself believed that his greatest contribution was not his electric piano, he told a Keyboard magazine interviewer in December 1993, but "The Rhodes Method" of teaching piano. About that time he had just begun to teach piano to inner city kids at Foshay Jr. High School in Los Angeles and gave them as their first assignment a trip to the wood shop where each one would build their own piano. This program was established at other L.A. area schools and in 1997 Los Angeles County honored him with a special Commendation "in recognition of dedicated service to the affairs of the community and for the civic pride demonstrated by numerous contributions for the benefit of all the citizens of Los Angeles County."

In his personal life, Mr. Rhodes was an accomplished tennis player, but being the classic absent-minded professor-type, he wasn't always the most attentive father or husband struggled in business. He did, however, receive a miraculous gift in the last decade of his life. When he was just starting teaching at the Los Angeles Piano Studio he had fallen in love with one of his students, Margit, who was 10 years younger than him. Being the proper gentleman, Mr. Rhodes sent a letter to her father requesting her hand in marriage. When he received no reply, he thought she didn't love him and went on with his life, eventually marrying someone else. In 1991, Margit, by then a widow, heard a Rhodes piano playing while she was in Las Vegas and decided to give him a call. He was elated, they were married soon thereafter and he spent the last nine years of his life with his first love.

Inspired by Margit and urged on by letters and phone calls from musicians around the world wanting to play the coveted Rhodes sound, Mr. Rhodes was intent on putting his famous piano back into production, a task that will be carried on by the Rhodes family.


On December 17, 2000 the music world lost one of its greatest innovators, Harold B. Rhodes. Harold's major achievements, among many, were the design and construction of the Rhodes Electric Piano, and the Rhodes Method teaching course.

The Rhodes piano was, and still is, the most recognized sound in modern music today. It is heard on albums by Steely Dan, The Doors, Stevie Wonder, Styx, and almost everyone who uses keyboards has sat behind one at one time or another. The Rhodes' ethereal, bell-like sound was the result of his work to bring the piano into the electric world populated by guitars and basses. The difference was that this piano was designed by a pianist. Harold was an accomplished musician, and this was primarily the reason that the Rhodes Method of piano teaching is so well used and liked. His gift was knowing what should sound right.

I personally worked with Harold for quite a few years, and he was a friend to my family even longer than this, having worked under my father for many years. I feel his loss on a deeper level, as he was my childhood idol. He was a figure that I admired, and I felt compelled to continue with the Rhodes legacy, even after he had dropped from the proverbial "radar screen". My tribute to his memory will be the ongoing support of the Rhodes pianos by the continued operation of my company, Major Key. We will be following in the shadow of this tremendous man.

It is said that legends never die, so this is really only a brief interlude, a coda in music terms, as we will meet again. We do things every day that set chords in motion that will reverberate throughout time..... I bet they will be played on a Rhodes.

Goodbye Harold, for now...

John R. McLaren


From: "neil loughran" <orange__funk@xxx.xxx>

Thats real sad news James...

I couldn't imagine what my favourite music would be like without the rhodes piano sound, Harold was the "real" legend of the rhodes piano.

I'll be playing my favourite rhodes moments this week with him in mind.

Peace
Neil


From: tom kattz <betaboard@xxx.xxx>

Thats very sad news. I wish his family strength and peace this holiday season.

Jamie


Well.....I didn't know the man....but to know his instruments.......and love them.......is enough.

He has left us with a wonderful instrument....

Mr Rhodes....I thank you Sir!.....

Mark Trayner, Vintage Hammond Hire (Scotland)


From: jvidor2293@xxx.xxx

A genius, obviously way ahead of his time. Who else could have ever come up with what he did?


Hello Rhodes group, this is Kenneth Manning in Dallas,TX. I just got the very sad new of the legendary Harold Rhodes passing this weekend. I am very heart broken over this, but it was expected to happen. I am honored to have had the chance to speak to him in 1996 over the phone. He was a very kind man. We spoke of him getting the ownership of his name back and different older Fender Rhodes models that he couldn't remember. I am also honored to own most of the Fender Rhodes and Rhodes models that he invented. My heart goes out to the Rhodes family and others who were close to him. Thank you Harold for invented the greatest instrument ever played. You will be mist.

My very best regards,
Kenneth E Manning


I thought I would take some time to thank you for this web site. My dad is Harold Rhodes.Sorry to report he passed away on sunday, december 17th at the age of 89.

Sincerely,
Jan Wylie


Harold Rhodes has the distinction of changing the way that people perform and appreciate music by the musical and technological marvel that is his piano. Try to think of another brand of instrument that is so recognizable and respected that people still are drawn to play it and hear it even after production stopped on them nearly twenty years ago. I've heard stories that Harold was especially generous and thoughtful. It doesn't surprise me at all since he gave the music world so much flavor with his piano.

Brian J. Corey


I was 16 when I got my first rhodes, 21 years ago. Its been 21 years of intermittent back pain and scraped knuckles. Why would anyone subject themselves to such discomfort and inconvenience? Because we are irresistably drawn to an instrument so expressive and sweet- sounding as to change the way we think about music. Though Harold Rhodes was an inventor, not an artist, he made great art possible. There's a special place in heaven for people like that.

Adan [Schwartz]


It was truly sad to hear about the loss of the great Harold Rhodes who passed away the other day. His neverending enthousiasm and visions has been a great inspiration in my life and the influence he has had on music as we see ( and hear ) it today can not be doubted. In fact, in my opinion, the sound of his instruments changed and gave life to new ways of creating music. Since everybody who was influential in composition and arranging during the sixties and after, was using this sound, it could be stated that between the electric guitar and the synthesizer, the Rhodes Electric Piano stands out as the key to what happened in ALL styles of music from 1965 and on. The strength of the instrument even makes it an important ingredient in musicmaking today.

It will be an honor to participate in keeping his legacy alive and to keep working with this great instrument to the best of my ability and hopefully to the benefit of creativity, good musicianship, invention and the joy of musiclovers all over the world.

Thank you Harold.

Frederik Adlers


From: joeldennis@xxx.xxx

What a great loss. Harold Rhodes will always be remembered by musicians worldwide for his great contribution. There are those Rhodes lovers who always hoped he would somehow be able to pick up where he left off in the production and developement of this great instrument. However, as important and wonderful as his piano is, we are reminded that there is a 1:1 ratio between life and death, and there is a larger importance and purpose in our lives than any temporal accomplishment. I hope to shake his hand one day and tell him I liked his piano a lot.


I've kept silent on this, because I didnt know what to say. But I will say this. Harold may be gone, but his legacy will live forever. Few people's single names are associated with such a piece of musical art.

Dan "Spiffy" Neuman


My heartfelt condolances go out to the Rhodes family. The immensity of his contributions is staggering, and can never be overstated. Modern music as we know it would not have existed without this man or his invention. May his family take comfort in the knowledge that he can reflect back from heaven on all he achieved on this earth. Someday I hope all of us, as keyboardists, can thank him personally when we too make that journey.

Alan B. Winter


Being one of thousands of devoted owners of Harold's great innovation, one is naturally sad to hear of his passing, but glad to learn of the great age he reached. I got my first Rhodes 73 in the early 1980s and used it in gigs despite the prodigious weight and availability of lighter alternatives. Anyone who has heard Richard Tee (formerly of Stuff, like his drummer colleague Steve Gadd) hold forth on the Rhodes knows the heavenly potential that we mortal users strive to realize. In my case, I proposed to my wife soon after visiting her apartment in Washington, D.C. and seeing a matching Rhodes 73 in her living room, right where I had mine placed. What could this mean? A perfectly matched pair of Rhodes? Wow. That was that. Rest well, Harold, for all of the good you have done for so many.

Gene Trisko
Berkeley Springs, WV


I just read the news on this website. Right this morning I have been discussing with the conductor of the bigband I'm playing in about our CD-recordings next week. We're doing a ballad (a child is born) and we were discussing whether to use the rhodes or an acoustic piano. Now I'm definitively sure to use my rhodes, like on nearly all other pieces. Just as a small and humble dedication to the great designer of this superb instrument. And for all these people that wonder why not to use a lighter alternative: their simple IS no alternative!! Harold, thank you and sleep well!!

Martijn Bos, Holland


...through a few life experiences of my own, I've become more than convinced that what we call life and death are just different gigs on a tour that goes on forever. Now that he's discarded that worn out amplifier cabinet that we call a body, I'm sure that he is back to work pursuing his musical interests. One way or another we'll feel his influence on this side; be it in a flash of inspiration or a whispered word of encouragement to keep filling the ethers with music.

Steve Scheffel


Thank you Harold. At 140 pounds I weighed in just a tisch more than the 88 suit case model I used to lug single handedly to gigs in the ice and cold of Fargo. I don't know who benefited the most from your invention, the musician who played one and could feel the magic of dense chords or single notes ringing vibrantly, or the dancing/listening public embracing new genres of Rhodes-inspired music. I know my musical life gigging in the frozen north was transformed, much like the Blues Brothers when Ray Charles sells them a Fender Rhodes in that great movie. I had the pleasure to watch a video of that movie with Harold some time before he died. He loved it and he too, loved the Rhodes sound.

We became close friends after I met him at the Piano Mart in West L.A. where I was buying a piano. My home in Malibu had burned in the firestorm of 93 taking my Rhodes and other keyboards. Harold went with me to the burn and after wading through the ashes we found a few tines, all that was left of my 73 suitcase model. Harold was like a child in his delight at seeing the components that had withstood a fire that melted or burned everything else almost totally beyond recognition. Turning to me he said, "Jimmy, I'm going to build you another one." I had the honor of playing that custom 73 suitcase, the last Rhodes made (so far), at his memorial service in L.A. on what would have been his 90th birthday.

In the past 7 years I enjoyed playing for Harold many times. He was always filled with the sense of gratitude,thrilled at hearing even the most modest jazz rendition of one of his favorite standards. We have many hours of filmed footage of Harold in preparation for a documentary of his life. The sound track (with a Rhodes piano of course) for a trailer created to promote the film was said by his wife Margit to have been instrumental in his recovery from stomach surgery about 6 years ago.

Harold created a new sound and he loved the sound he created.

I love that sound too.

Thank you Harold.

Jim Wray


As some here know, I was vice-president of the newly formed Rhodes Music Corp. for a while, and Harold was in really bad health ever since I came on board, back in '96. Some interesting facts about Harold:

1. He taught upwards of 150,000 wounded GI's during WWII to build and play their own bedside piano. It was a little mini unit they could assemble right in their beds. It was the most succesful government music education program in history.

2. He maintained that it was he, and not Leo Fender, who really developed the Fender electric guitar.

3. The Rhodes was the largest selling electric keyboard instrument of all time; when it was being mass produced by CBS, Harold got a royalty of 1 cent per key. That's between 73-88 cents per unit, and units had wholesale costs sometimes over $1,000. Nice of them, wasn't it?

4. He won a lifetime achievement NARAS (Grammy) award in '96. Luminaries who weighed in;

Josef Zawinul (Weather Report); "Harold, before you, my life was hard. You gave me a sound and you gave me a life."

Chick Corea "The Rhodes represents the only true advancement to the piano keyboard in the 20th century."

Ray Charles "The Rhodes was a musical atom bomb, changing the face of the music landscape forever."

In short, Harold was a great guy. He used to travel with Cannonball Adderly, helped young artists like Herbie Hancock and Patrice Rushen, made "how to play" piano videos, *and* he installed his own gas pump at his house!

The Rhodes is a deceptively simple instrument that, like its more complicated uncle, the piano, is amazingly resistant to accurate sampling.

He was not a very good businessman, unfortunately, and the lawsuits between his heirs and other interests continue, as I have heard, even to this day.

Rest in Peace, Harold B. Rhodes!

Steve Catanzaro