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
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
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" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
From: tom kattz <email@example.com>
Thats very sad news. I wish his family strength and peace this holiday
Well.....I didn't know the man....but to know his instruments.......and love
He has left us with a wonderful instrument....
Mr Rhodes....I thank you Sir!.....
Mark Trayner, Vintage Hammond Hire (Scotland)
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
Rhodes.Sorry to report he passed away on sunday,
december 17th at the age of 89.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
I love that sound too.
Thank you Harold.
As some here know, I was
vice-president of the
newly formed Rhodes Music Corp. for a while, and Harold was in really
health ever since I came on board, back in '96. Some interesting facts
1. He taught upwards of 150,000 wounded GI's during WWII to build
their own bedside piano. It was a little mini unit they could assemble
in their beds. It was the most succesful government music education
2. He maintained that it was he, and not Leo Fender, who really
the Fender electric guitar.
3. The Rhodes was the largest selling electric keyboard instrument of
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
sometimes over $1,000. Nice of them, wasn't it?
4. He won a lifetime achievement NARAS (Grammy) award in '96.
Josef Zawinul (Weather Report);
"Harold, before you, my life was hard. You gave me a sound and you
gave me a
"The Rhodes represents the only true advancement to the piano
the 20th century."
"The Rhodes was a musical atom bomb, changing the face of the
In short, Harold was a great guy. He used to travel with Cannonball
helped young artists like Herbie Hancock and Patrice Rushen, made
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
He was not a very good businessman, unfortunately, and the lawsuits
his heirs and other interests continue, as I have heard, even to this
Rest in Peace, Harold B. Rhodes!