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Liberace's piano on grand display
By Laurel Druley
Minnesota Public Radio
July 22, 2002

Not only is Rochester the city known for treating human illnesses, but apparently its the place to fix a sick piano too, or at least one that's out of tune. Liberace's rhinestone-covered piano has traveled from the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. to Rochester for a tune up.

There are two hundred pounds of Austrian rhinestones encrusted on Liberace's piano.
(MPR Photo/Laurel Druley)

There was very little restrained about Liberace. And that's true of his piano as well.

Born Walter Valentino Liberace, the Wisconsin native, rose to stardom quickly. Often decked out in sequinned capes, glitter and jewels he was known as "Mr. Showmanship". Whether he was performing at the Radio City Music Hall, Las Vegas, or on his own TV program he entertained with music, humor and an occasional tap dance.

Rochester piano technician Dave Kemmer spent about four hours tuning Liberace's piano, which hasn't been played for two years.

Myrna Hamilton, owner of Hamilton Music, demonstrates how the dazzling 9-foot Baldwin concert grand sounds now.

Hamilton explains a piano covered in rhinestones sounds no different from any other concert piano.

"That is a question that a lot of people ask," she says. "They want to know, 'does it sound different in mahogany or ebony?' And that's alright, how should you know unless you ask?"

The Austrian crystal rhinestones add about 200 pounds to the already 1,200 pound piano. Hamilton says getting it to the second floor of her shop in one piece was a challenge.

This is the second time Myrna Hamilton has looked after what Liberace called his "Superpiano". She helped take care of the instrument when Liberace played at the Mayo Civic Auditorium in Rochester, a year before he died.
(MPR Photo/Laurel Druley)

"It entailed hiring a crane, a 22-ton crane, and lifting it by straps to the second floor and more or less slinging it in this fire door," she explains. "Needless to say, I was very happy when it was in place and everything was just fine."

The move jostled just one rhinestone loose.

"You never could replace something like this," she says. "If Christies were to auction this off, who could say what it would bring? You know it's a collectors item, a one-of-a-kind. It'd probably bring anywhere up to a million dollars."

Liberace's piano was among about thirty famous instruments exhibited at the Smithsonian over the last two years.

This isn't the piano's first visit to Rochester.

Liberace played it at a concert at the Mayo Civic Center in 1986, a year before he died. Hamilton Music tuned Liberace's piano then too. Myrna Hamilton sat in the front row at the concert.

"Oh, it was quite spectacular," she recalls. "He's probably the example of the finest showmanship you'll ever find. He used to make a joke about it. He knew he wasn't the greatest tap dancer but that didn't stop him from tap dancing with Sammy Davis Jr. And he knew he wasn't the greatest vocalist but he sang and they always enjoyed his music."

Whether he was playing Chopin or his signature "I'll be seeing you," Liberace had a flair and style all his own. And the piano matched his flamboyance.

Liberace signed this photograph for Hamiltin music during his last visit to Rochester
(MPR Photo/Laurel Druley)

"He actually brought classical music to so many audience listeners who would never think about playing classical music and they loved it because of the way he presented it," Hamilton says.

The rhinestone covered piano was on its way back to Los Angeles to the Liberace Museum, when Myrna Hamilton talked the Artists division of Baldwin into keeping it in Rochester for a while.

The piano will stay at Hamilton Music in Rochester through the end of August.

More Information
  • Piano 300 at the Smithsonian Institution Where Liberace's piano was....
  • The Liberace Museum ...and where it is going.