We’re saddened to say that longtime Tampa Theatre friend Rosa Rio has passed away. Below you’ll find a bit about her life.  There will be a public memorial for her at Tampa Theatre on Saturday, June 5 at 11:00 am. More details at www.tampatheatre.org/Rosa.php

     Please share your memories of Rosa in the comments below and we’ll pass them along to her family.



     Rosa Rio peacefully passed away at her home in Sun City Center on May 13, 2010 with her husband, Bill Yeoman, by her side.  She was 107 years old. 

    Her prolific career began with a simple declaration to her family at age eight, “When I grow up, I want to play a big piano, wear pretty clothes and lots of jewelry, and make people happy.” 

    She was extraordinarily positive, motivated and determined.  She was able to seamlessly adapt to changes in the entertainment industry (silent films, talkies, radio, TV, and finally, back to silent films). “I can’t believe that I’ve been so fortunate to have been in so many things that went out and I bounced back,” she said in 2007.  Her path was not without challenges.  As the only woman in the orchestra pit, she routinely challenged men who considered her to be second fiddle because of her gender.  She allayed those stereotypical reactions with talent, charm and a (sometimes bawdy) sense of humor.    

    Tara Schroeder, Tampa Theatre’s Director Programming and Marketing, had become best friends with Rio.  “Rosa’s talent and passion for music and the theatre organ was remarkable, and in fact I am certain that her passion was the key to her longevity.  I feel so fortunate to have become so close to her. She is a testament to the will of spirit,” Schroeder said.

    Rosa began taking piano lessons at eight, and at ten landed her first job at a silent movie theater in hometown of New Orleans.  After studying music at Oberlin College and silent film accompaniment at The Eastman School of Music, Rosa accompanied silent films in movie palaces in New York and New Orleans.  The balloon burst in 1927 with the advent of “talkies.”

    In the 1930s and 40s, Rosa was dubbed “Queen of the Soaps,” having provided organ accompaniment for 24 soap operas and radio dramas, sometimes dashing from one studio to another with seconds between shows.  On average, she played for five to seven shows per day, including “The Shadow” with Orson Welles and “The Bob and Ray Show,” “Cavalcade of America,” “My True Story,” and “The Goldbergs.”  

    Rosa was hired by NBC as a temporary replacement while they searched for a man.  “I asked them if they were looking for a man or an organist,” Rosa said.  She stayed for 22 years and was the first woman hired into an orchestra of 156 men.  It would be ten years before another woman was hired, and would kindle Rosa’s life-long passion for women’s rights. 

    Transitioning to television, Rosa played the organ for many network series, including “The Today Show,” “As the World Turns,” and “The Guiding Light.”

    On piano, Rosa worked with many vocalists, most notably Mary Martin, whom she accompanied at her audition for Cole Porter.  

    Since 1996, Rosa performed for over 30 silent film presentations for full houses at the Tampa Theatre’s 1,400-pipe Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.  Her last performance at Tampa Theatre was on August 30, 2009 when she provided the accompaniment for a Buster Keaton silent comedy.  While the sold-out audiences always thanked her with standing ovations, she graciously returned the accolades, saying “I have such gratitude for the wonderful people who have such love for the theatre organ, silent pictures and Tampa Theatre.”

    John Bell, Tampa Theatre’s President and CEO said, “We were so fortunate to have Rosa as part of the Tampa Theatre family for the past 14 years.  She was an amazing woman with remarkable talent who introduced tens of thousands of people to the magic of silent films and the theatre organ.  While I am very saddened by her passing, I am so thankful that she was able to share her musical talents throughout her long and fulfilling life.  She was an inspiration to so many people, young and old.”

    If you would like to express your condolences to Rosa’s family, you can send cards and letters to Tampa Theatre, Attn: Rosa’s Family, 711 N. Franklin St., Tampa, FL 33602. Please no flowers. Emails can be directed to tara@tampatheatre.org.

    Tampa Theatre will celebrate her life with a memorial on Saturday, June 5 at 11:00 am.  The public is invited.


Listen to a portion of Rosa’s StoryCorps Recording

StoryCorps recorded some wonderful conversations with Tampa Bay residents during their stay in Ybor City in partnership with our local radio station WMNF 88.5 where you you can tune in regularly to two different pieces each week.  Listen to Rosa’s recording here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/wmnfstory

Rosa Rio Magazine Article

Read more about Rosa in this in-depth article
from the Journal of the American Theatre Organ Society.

Rosa Rio on Fox 13’s “Charley’s World” with Charley Belcher

Listen to Rosa Rio’s interview Charley Belcher featured Rosa on one of his entertaining “Charley’s World” segments.  Click here to watch it. 

Rosa Rio Interviewed on NPR

Listen to Rosa Rio’s interview on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition.  Rosa speaks about her experiences playing the organ on The Shadow with Orson Welles and countless other radio shows, silent movies, and soap operas – and being the Tampa’s special event organist.

She Improvs with Age

A gift for improvisation has carried organist Rosa Rio through a century of change.  By Cooper Cruz in The Weekly Planet


Swing by the Tampa Museum of Art tonight to see art inspired by Rosa Rio – and lots of other cool art at this month’s Art after Dark shingig, “Cause an Effect.”  About 20 local artists were invited to create a piece for the show based on a local cause or charity of their choosing.  TMA selected local artist Daniel Mrgan who chose Tampa Theatre. 

“Since Tampa Theatre has always been one of my favorite places in the world,” said Daniel, “an almost perfect little oasis for quenching my cinematic thirst, my choice of a cause was a no-brainer – I would love to create a piece that will celebrate Tampa Theatre in some way.”

Until recently, the effervescent Rosa accompanied our silent films at the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ.  I’m going to see her tomorrow and she’s sure to get a kick out of seeing photos of Daniel’s artwork.  By the way, Rosa has been a little under the weather, but recovering.  If you’d like to send her a get well card or email, send to: Tara Schroeder, Tampa Theatre, 711 N. Franklin Street, Tampa, FL 33602 or tara@tampatheatre.org.

Tampa Museum of Art
Art after Dark – Saturday, April 16, 8-11pm
Free for members; $10 non-members

See you tonight!  I’m wearing a goofy t-shirt with a photo of a Tampa Theatre statue photoshopped with running shorts and shoes.  (Yep, there’s a story.)

This morning I sat through a state Arts Council grant panel review for Media Arts organizations.  The grant review process is now conducted by teleconference, which is great because it saves thousands of dollars in travel expenses for arts organizations statewide.  It used to be that we’d all have to haul our tired carcasses to Tallahassee, which is a fine town but is not exactly conveniently located.

This state grant program funds those cultural organizations whose primary mission is to advance film production and exhibition in Florida.   We’ve applied for many years and have always seemed to fare well.  The panelists are experts in the field who take the time to read and analyze each application, then score them.  The scores from all of the panelists are totaled and then averaged.  This morning we were pleased when Tampa Theatre’s application received the highest score overall!

Now, all of this may not matter because the legislature is wrestling with budget cuts.   There’s the possibility that the program which funds these grants may not be funded at all.  Yes, times are tough, especially for governments at all levels, but the arts are a proven, smart investment.  We also believe Tampa Theatre is one of Tampa’s most creative economic engines and deserves local and state support.

If you take just three minutes now and click on this link where you can send a quick and easy message to your legislator.  Doing so will help restore funding for the Theatre’s artistic and educational programs, but it may also help hundreds of other local arts organizations all around the state.

Last weekend, Steve Witt saw NORTH FACE and afterwards spoke with Brenda Boyd, one of our house managers, about having climbed to the Eiger summit on the same north face route taken by the men in the film (and in real life).  From Brenda: “His stories were incredible, and a small crowd even gathered around him as he pointed to different places on the poster and explained how certain events transpired, the conditions of the mountain and the challenges faced by the team.”

I gave Steve a call and was spellbound like Brenda, so invited him to share his stories about the Eiger and answer questions after the Sat 4/10, 7:30 show.  

About Steve Witt: Retired Army Major Steve Witt successfully summited the Eiger with climbing partner Chris Tomsen on July 10, 1979. Over a two-day period, the climbing pair ascended the Classic North Face Route…the same route that Kurz and Hinterstoisser attempted, including the famed Hinterstoisser Traverse. Steve Witt is an avid professional climber with many successful climbs to his credit. He is a keynote speaker and subject matter expert, who is still climbing to this day!

Tara Heart Cary Grant

So much fun reading all the great suggestions.  Thank you all!  Keep ‘em coming so I’ll have them for next summer.  Plus — On Friday April 16 some people may win a Summer Classics Six Pack (6 tickets).   I’ll pick a few at radom from all the emails & blog comments I’ve received by Friday, April 16.

I was vindicated to see PILLOW TALK pop up on many lists since I lost an attendance bet with my boss John Bell over that movie several years ago… grrrrrr.   

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, GWTW and CASABLANCA were the most requested.  TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and PSYCHO were on lots of lists, too.   I heard about a new restored 35mm print of THE RED SHOES, so I’m noodling around with the idea of a dance theme for the Jan/Feb classics, so will likely show SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN then.  Lots of people suggested contemporary and foreign classics, so also considering a separate series for both of those ideas.  I’ve gotten a few questions lately about how we select the movies and where we get them.  (“Do you have a film vault in the back?”)  No film vault, but will do a separate blog on that behind-the-screen adventure later.  

Now back the summer classics.  More details later about Audience Costume Parade and Sing-A-Long details, etc.  Here’s the line up:

TOPPER – Sunday, June 6  Archival Print!

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT – Sunday, June 13

HIS GIRL FRIDAY – Sunday, June 20  Archival Print!

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN – Sunday, June 27  New Restored 35mm Print!



PSYCHO – Sunday, July 18

CASABLANCA – Saturday, July 24 & Sunday, July 25

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY – Sunday, August 1  New Restored 35mm Print!

SING-A-LONG MARY POPPINS – Saturday, August 7 & Sunday, August 8

THE PRINCESS BRIDE – Sunday, August 15  New Restored 35mm Print!

GONE WITH THE WIND – Saturday, August 21 & Sunday, August 22

METROPOLIS – Sunday, August 29   Digitally Restored with Missing Footage with live musical accompaniment with the Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ

Saw North Face tonight with my pals Julie & Grady.  Here’s my review.  North Face = riveting x 500 + popcorn.  And it’s a true story!

Put your speedo away, Brian.  Alas, the orchestra pit swimming pool project was only a frivolous April Fool’s Day fantasy.   Thanks to everyone who played along.  Lest you thought the orchestra pit was also dubious, the proof is in these then and now pictures.  In the early days, the Tampa Theatre Symphony Orchestra or an organist at our Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ would accompany the silents or, after sound pictures arrived, provide pre-show entertainment.  Much later the pit was covered to accommodate live performances and now is a storage space.  The hole in the stage does have a cover which is very heavy.  One day while covering it, I stumbled and fell into the pit.  My injuries weren’t a picnic, but I did have fun describing the accident on my workman’s comp paperwork — which I heard cracked up the claims processors.