Guido Deiro |
Who Was First?
This photograph of a dapper Guido Deiro (with "Kaiser Wilhelm moustache") was taken in 1905 in the little town of Cuorgne near the family village of Salto. The piano-accordion -- Guido's first -- was the Ronco Vercelli instrument of 41 keys treble and 96 basses. This is the instrument which he played professionally in the saloons of Seattle upon his arrival in the United States in 1908.
Who Was First?The famous 1935 Accordion World article regarding the "controversy" over who introduced the piano accordion in the United States has been reprinted many times during the last sixty-five years. Unfortunately, my father Guido Deiro's scathing reply to my uncle Pietro was not included at the end of the Accordion World article and so is unknown to the world at large.
By Count Guido Roberto Deiro
The truth of the matter is as follows, and let me preface my remarks by saying that the proof of all that I mention here now lies in the archives of the Center for the Study of the Free-Reed Instruments at the City University of New York's Graduate Center in New York City, along with one of my father's early Guerinni piano accordions modified at his direction with the addition of the augmented fifth chord row in the left hand.
On file at the archive is a 1950 letter from Pertomilli and Piatanesi to Galla-Rini confirming that my uncle Pietro was the first to play a piano accordion in San Francisco. They confirm that Guido was the first to play the piano accordion in the United States and missed playing in San Francisco by a week, as he was finishing his engagement at the Jackson Saloon in Seattle where both brothers had been living. My father also played the Idaho Saloon in Seattle nearly six months before Pietro even took up the piano accordion, which my father taught him to play. Pietro had been playing an 80 bass semitone for his own enjoyment. He had not yet performed professionally and had been employed in the mines. My father had already been playing for a living for several years in saloons and concert halls in Italy, Germany and France. He had studied under Giovanni Galiardi.
Guido's first piano accordions were Italian and brought to the USA by my father who had come to America at the request of Ronco Vercelli, the manufacturer, to demonstrate the instruments. One of them needed repair and my father sent it to Guerinni in San Francisco. They had never seen one before and they sent it back unplayable. As Guido was booked and had to finish an engagement he sent his younger brother to Guerinni to oversee the repairs and modifications. It was this instrument that Pietro played at a small theater in North Beach. Guido showed up later and played a concert in the street in front of Guerrini's factory and was immediately booked for twelve weeks in Vaudeville. All this was explained in my father's own hand in a life story he penned in 1935 and confirmed by the boys at Guerrini and many others including Harry Weber and S. Pantages, who at the time were the major booking agents for the Orpheum and Keith Vaudeville Circuits.
Contracts in the archives show Guido Deiro was the highest paid musical instrumentalist performer in Vaudeville at $600.00 a week in 1910! This has been confirmed by none other than Anthony Galla-Rini who was there and performing with his family on chromatic accordion. Newspaper articles, press releases and Vaudeville critic's reviews confirm that it was Guido Deiro who coined the name "piano accordion" and first used it professionally. Extensive research has failed to turn up any performer using this description of the instrument until many years after my father introduced it on stage. It created such a sensation that Frosini changed his play list and glued a dummy keyboard onto his chromatic instrument in order to get his Vaudeville contract renewed! He and my father became great friends.
Further archival material donated by me to the Center and not made public since my father's death in 1950, irrefutably confirms that he was the first piano accordionist in this country to make records. He cut early Edison soft wax cylinders before his Columbia discs. He was the first to perform in Vaudeville, on the radio and in sound motion pictures (Vitaphone 1928). Incidentally, his solo Vitaphone performance entitled, Guido Deiro: World's Foremost Piano Accordionist is being restored by the UCLA Film and Television Institute and will soon be shown as a short on the Turner Movie Channel.
Of particular interest to California accordion fans is that apparently for years the story has been that Pietro won the Gold Medal at the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition. Well that turns out to be incorrect also. We have turned up a wonderful photo of Guido Deiro playing to a crowd of 8,000 at the Exposition and there is a San Diego Union Tribune newspaper story confirming the size of the audience along with an ecstatic review of his playing, as well as the original letter from the Pan Pacific Commission awarding the medal to Guido Deiro.
I am to blame for sitting on all of this history for the past fifty years. I have an excuse why I didn't step forward sooner, even though I had been aware that the history of the piano accordion had not been correctly reported. I think it had to do with my affection for my cousin Pietro Jr. and my desire not to impugn my uncle's memory. When my cousin visited me and I showed him what my father had left he was shocked. His father did not leave any material to contradict any of Guido's claims. Since my cousin's demise I feel free to turn over all of my father's archives to CUNY's Graduate Center and let the scholars and historians correct the record. Of course, I will throw in my two cents worth also, as I had the pleasure of listening to both my uncle's and my father's recollections.
July 2001, Las Vegas, Nevada
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