Rosa Rio

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Rosa Rio
Rosa Rio at the Brooklyn Fox (1933–34), started her career as a silent film accompanist
Born Elizabeth Raub[1]
(1902-06-02)June 2, 1902[2]
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Died May 13, 2010(2010-05-13) (aged 107)
Sun City Center, Florida[2]
Occupation Organist, Producer, Arranger
Years active 1909–2009
Spouse(s) Bill Yeoman (1947- 2010 her death)

Rosa Rio (June 2, 1902 – May 13, 2010) was the stage name of the American theater and motion picture organist, who was known for production and arrangement. beginning her career as a silent film accompanist. She became a leading organist on network radio for soap operas and dramas. She continued to perform until the age of 107,[2] becoming one of the oldest performers in the music industry. She provided silent film soundtrack accompaniment for such performers as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

Early life[edit]

Rio was born as Elizabeth Raub and raised in New Orleans.[1] She began playing piano at the age of four and started taking lessons at the age of eight. At age nine she played piano at a silent movie theater for the first time. She studied music at Oberlin College and at the Eastman School of Music. Her instrument of choice was a Wurlitzer pipe organ. She married her professor at Eastman, organist John Hammond; they had a son, John Hammond III, who preceded her in death. The marriage ended in divorce. She later married Bill Yeoman, her husband of 63 years. She had three grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and a pet snail named Iowa.[1]

Bill Yeoman, her husband, said that Raub adopted the stage name of Rosa Rio because it fitted easily on a theater marquee.

Motion Pictures[edit]

As a theater organist, Rio performed in Syracuse, at Loews theaters in New York City, at the Saenger Southeastern theater chain, the Scranton Paramount, Brooklyn Fox Theatre, RKO Albee, and the Brooklyn Paramount.[3] She was working at the Saenger Theatre in her hometown of New Orleans when Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer was released, signaling the end of the silent film era.[1] Among the films she composed for and provided accompaniment for include The Phantom of The Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the seminal The Birth Of A Nation


Caricature of Rosa Rio reflecting on her career as a staff organist for NBC Radio.

Known as "Queen of the Soaps," Rio worked for 22 years in radio, providing the organ background music for 24 radio soap operas and radio dramas, and playing an average of five to seven shows per day.[4] Some days she went from one program immediately to another—as when Lorenzo Jones and Bob and Ray were adjacent on NBC's schedule during the early 1950s—with less than 50 seconds to run from one NBC studio to another .[citation needed] Some of the programs she played for included Bob and Ray, Ethel and Albert, Front Page Farrell, Lorenzo Jones, My True Story, The Shadow and When a Girl Marries.

During World War II she had her own radio show, Rosa Rio Rhythms.

Television and Videos[edit]

Rio made a smooth transition into television, playing for shows such as As the World Turns and the Today Show.[5] However, compared to radio, television offered fewer opportunities for work. Rio later moved to Connecticut, where she opened a music school with classes in voice, organ and piano.

During the 1980s, she provided scores and Hammond organ accompaniment to more than 370 silent films released on video by Video Yesteryear.[3]

Later career[edit]

Rosa Rio, 103, at the Tampa Theatre Wurlitzer following her performance for the silent film "Beyond the Rocks" at the ATOS National Convention in May 2006.

In 1993, Rio moved to Hillsborough County in Florida, where she played accompaniment to silent films at the Tampa Theatre.[6] It was from the stage of the Tampa Theatre in 2007 that she first publicly gave her real age, which she had kept to herself for decades due to age discrimination dating back to her network radio years .[citation needed] Because Rio never celebrated birthdays, some of her family members were not aware of her age until the night before her Tampa Theatre "confession."[7] She celebrated her 107th birthday in June 2009.

She died on May 13, 2010, three weeks short of her 108th birthday. Her organ arrangements are still in print.[8]


Listen to[edit]