Theatre organist Jelani Eddington will perform at the Renaissance Theatre in a concert called “The Symphonic Wurlitzer” on October 6 at 2:30 PM. Presented by The Western Reserve Theatre Organ Society and the Renaissance Performing Arts Association, Jelani will enthrall audiences with his dazzling technique and most beloved pieces.
During the years that Jelani Eddington has given concerts, he has easily established himself as one of the most prominent and sought-after artists on the concert circuit. Jelani has performed in most of the major concert venues throughout the United States, has toured extensively abroad, and has received numerous awards and recognitions, including his selection as the 2001 Theatre Organist Of The Year.
Jelani Eddington was born in Muncie, Indiana and grew up in a very musical family. Between the interests of his mother, a professional music teacher of many years, and those of his grandmother, a well-respected piano instructor, it was no surprise when Jelani demonstrated an inclination toward music at a very early age. Shortly after beginning piano instruction at the age of four, Jelani began studying classical piano under the direction of his grandmother. At the age of eight, a trip to hear the 4- manual 42-rank Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ installed in the Indianapolis, Indiana restaurant, the Paramount Music Palace, introduced Jelani to the sounds of the theatre pipe organ. Soon thereafter, he began to pursue classical organ lessons and ultimately began studying theatre organ under the direction of John Ferguson, whose skills as a theatre organ instructor have been highly acclaimed internationally.
At the age of 13, Jelani won the American Theatre Organ Society’s Young Theatre Organist Competition, prevailing over competitors ages 13-21 from the United States, England, Australia, and New Zealand. Jelani remains the youngest competitor ever to win this title. Jelani went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Indiana University in 1996, and later received a Juris Doctor degree from the Yale Law School in 1999, after which time he was admitted to practice law in New York and later in Wisconsin. During the course of his concert career, Jelani has been featured at numerous national and regional conventions of the American Theatre Organ Society, and has toured extensively throughout the world. He has also produced and marketed over 30 theatre organ albums on some of the best-known and most dynamic instruments in the country.
In 2014, Jelani became the first—and to date only—musician to have a video of his theatre organ performance go “viral.” Within a few short weeks, Jelani’s performance of John William’s Star Wars Symphonic Suite was viewed on YouTube over 1 million times in more than 200 countries around the world. As of 2018, that video has earned more than 3 million views worldwide.
The Renaissance Theatre organ was originally built by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Manufacturing Company of North Tonawanda, NY for Warner Brothers Vitaphone Company and installed in its Sunset Boulevard Studio in 1929. From here, it was moved to Radio Station KMX, a CBS unit, where it was used daily to play the “Amos ‘n’ Andy Show” theme song. In 1955, the late Hollywood actor Joseph Kearns (best known as Mr. Wilson on TV’s “Dennis the Menace”) bought it and actually built his entire home around it. An avid organist and enthusiast, Kearns upgraded the original three manual, 18-rank configurations to include additional ranks of pipes.
After Kearn’s death, Robert Carson, who founded a recording firm and produced a number of record albums featuring the instrument, leased his house. When he died, the residence changed hands and the instrument was offered for sale. Several legal tangles ensued and the organ changed hands a few times as well. The Mighty Wurlitzer was installed here in early 1985 with the help of Ken Crome, one of America’s foremost theatre organ authorities. Lyn Larsen performed the first “official” concert on the instrument on May 17, 1985.