Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rosa Rio, Pt. 1

Originally published in the February, 2009, Old Radio Times.(http://www.otrr.org/pg07_times.htm)

Rosa Rio: the Music of the Air
Thomas P. Honsa

Rosa Rio is everything the golden age of radio ever hoped to be: a stately, entertaining, vivacious story teller. A conversation with her is illuminating and entertaining. It’s an opportunity to peer into a chapter of America’s past that was majestic and fascinating. Furthermore, for anyone who may think those golden days of radio are long gone, she reminds them they are sadly mistaken.

Rio earned fame as one of America’s great organists at a time when such performers were an essential part of American entertainment. She accompanied silent films and, later, radio and television dramas with an improvisational style that, whether they realize it or not, many Americans are still familiar with today. It was Rio who played Camille Saint-Saen’s famous Omphale’s Spinning Wheel that opened the radio classic The Shadow. It was she, too, who provided much of the mood music for The Guiding Light and other popular daytime dramas.

Music came early in Rio’s life. The Internet Movie Database says she began playing piano at age four and started formal lessons at eight. At the age of nine her father caught her accompanying a silent film on piano in a hometown theater. “Oh no, you don’t,” she remembers him saying as he pulled her from the chair and back home.

By then, though, it may have been too late. The theater was in Rio’s blood. She eventually studied music at Ohio’s Oberlin College and Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, but she repeatedly found her way to cinema work, especially in the Loew’s and Seanger theater chains.
Once she started, she says, she never looked back and “I never had a dull day in my life.”

- Tom Honsa is an adjunct professor of History at Eckerd College and Manatee Community College in Florida. He recently interviewed Rosa Rio, who is still performing at the age (unofficially) of 105.


Post a Comment

<< Home