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known for playing popular tunes on the piano with a semi-classical style


Wladziu Valentino Liberace was born in West Allis, Wisconsin, on May 16, 1919. His musical talent came naturally -- his father, Salvatore, played the French horn; his mother, Frances, played the piano; and all three of his siblings, George, Angie and Rudy, had musical ability. It was little surprise, therefore, that Liberace had learned to play the piano by ear at the age of four. As a teen, he earned wages playing popular tunes at movie theaters and speakeasies. He made his solo debut with the Chicago Symphony at the age of 14, joined the Works Progress Administration Symphony Orchestra at the age of 17, and subsequently received a scholarship to attend the Wisconsin College of Music.

In 1939, after a classical recital, Liberace's audience requested the popular tune "Three Little Fishes." A showman from the start, Liberace promptly played the tune with a semi-classical style, which the audience loved. Soon, this unique style of playing got Liberace bookings in large nightclubs. By 1940, he was traveling with a custom-made piano on top of which he would place his trademark candelabrum. It was at this point in his career that he dropped his first and middle names to become simply Liberace -- at the advice of another famous pianist, Ignace Jan Paderewski -- and a career was begun.

Liberace made his film debut in 1950, playing a honky tonk pianist in South Sea Sinner, a movie starring Shelley Winters.

The Liberace Show, his syndicated television program, debuted in 1952, as a summer replacement for The Dinah Shore Show. By 1954 it was being carried by 217 American stations and could be seen in 20 foreign countries.

And, the more flamboyant his costumes and piano ornamentation, the more popular he became.

In 1953, Liberace played to a capacity crowd at Carnegie Hall. That same year he made a record-breaking appearance before 16,000 at Madison Square Garden (surpassing the previous record set by Paderewski). He played to an over-capacity crowd of 20,000 at the Hollywood Bowl, and to an audience of 110,000 at Chicago's Soldier Field. In 1955, he opened in the Las Vegas Riviera Hotel as the highest paid entertainer in the city's history.

His Liberace: An Autobiography, published in 1972, was an almost instant best-seller, while his first book, Liberace Cooks, went into seven printings. He went on to write two more autobiographies: The Things I Love (1976) and The Wonderful Private World of Liberace (1986).

In 1977, Liberace founded the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts. In 1978, The Liberace Museum opened in Las Vegas. Profits from the museum provide scholarship money for financially needy college musicians.

Liberace continued performing until the fall of 1986, despite suffering from heart disease and emphysema. His last performance was at Radio City Music Hall on November 2, 1986. He passed away in his Palm Springs, California, home on February 4, 1987; he is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, California.

Liberace was bestowed with many honors and awards during his lifetime including:
Las Vegas Entertainment Personality of the Year (1980)
Las Vegas Star of the Year (1980)
the "Golden Mike" award from Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters (1981)
Keyboard Magazine Hall of Fame (1982)
Instrumentalist of the Year
Best Dressed Entertainer
two Emmy Awards
six Gold Albums
two Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
a listing in The Guiness Book of World Records as the world's highest paid musician and pianist

Internet Movie Database
The Liberace Museum

Ignace Jan Paderewski
Madison Square Garden
Radio City Music Hall

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The Robinson Library >> Musicians

This page was last updated on 07/10/2018.