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Liberace on DVD

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About Liberace Liberace, born Wladziu Valentino Liberace, was the most flamboyant, popular easy listening pianist of the '60s and '70s by a wide margin. His campy, theatrical appearance and performances often disguised his prodigious talent.

Liberace was a child prodigy born to a musical family. His father, Salvatore, played french horn in John Philip Sousa's Concert Band, as well as the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Instead of following in his father's footsteps and playing horn, Wladziu Liberace decided to play piano instead. Liberace was exceptionally gifted at piano, earning strong words of praise from Ignace Paderewski, which helped him land a scholarship at the Wisconsin College of Music at the age of seven; he retained his scholarship for 17 years, the longest period of time in the history of the academy. When he was 11, he debuted as a concert soloist. When he was in his teens, he was performing with symphony orchestras.

Instead of following the accepted path of classical recitals and university courses, Liberace chose to be a showman. At encores at his concerts, he began playing novelty songs like "Mairzy Doats." To ensure that he had widespread appeal as an entertainer, he took elocution lessons in order to mask his Polish accent.

During World War II, Liberace performed in a variety of overseas entertainment units. When he came back to America, he began performing in clubs, playing and singing with dance bands. While he was on the club circuit, he began performing under the sole name of Liberace.

In 1940, he moved to New York City, where he became a fixture on the club circuits. However, his stint in New York wasn't particularly successful, as the Musicians Union banned the pianist after he began playing counterpoints to certain records played over the club's sound system. Undaunted, Liberace moved to California. While he was playing at a local hotel, he was spotted by Decca Record executives who offered him a contract. Decca attempted to make Liberace into a big band leader, but it was unsuccessful. In the late '40s, he signed with Columbia Records and, under the direction of producer Mitch Miller, recorded an over-the-top rendition of "September Song." Along with a live concert album, the single helped bring Liberace to a national audience.

Liberace became a world celebrity in the 1950s, both through his records and assorted television and film appearances. His appearance and repertoire was becoming increasingly campy, as he dressed himself in rhinestone, gold lame, furs, and sequins while playing everything from Gershwin and show tunes to lounge jazz and light classical pieces, with a candelabra placed on his piano. Liberace's star rose rapidly in the early '50s, as he had his own television show, appropriately titled The Liberace Show. His celebrity reached a peak in the mid-'50s. Not only did he star in the 1955 film Sincerely Yours, a movie about a deaf concert pianist, but he was mentioned in "Mr. Sandman" by the Chordettes and he published his own cookbook. In 1956, Liberace celebrated his 25 years in show business with an extravagant concert at the Hollywood Bowl. That same year, he made some headway in the U.K. market, playing three Royal Command Performances.

Although it was a turning point time for the pianist, 1956 was also the year that his star began to dim somewhat. Cassandra, a columnist for the English tabloid The Daily Mirror, inferred that Liberace was homosexual. He sued the paper and won, yet he still made an effort to tone down his appearance. However, the public didn't want a subdued Liberace and he reverted to his kitschy showmanship in the early '60s.

Liberace had no further major pop hits in the '60s,'70s, and '80s, yet he continued to sell out concerts around the world and sell a number of records, even though he never earned the favor of the critics. In 1982, a former chauffeur and bodyguard sued the pianist for palimony; the case was settled out of court. Liberace remained a celebrity and a popular performer until his death in 1987. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide

The Music With his brother George on violin, Liberace presented lush, rich music on the piano and here his vocal style with the beautiful September Song, In the 50's, talented stars were dimminishing prejudices. Nat King Cole broke the color barrier. Liberace broke the gay barrier. while prejudice against minorities and gays were extreme in the 50's, shows like Ed Sullivan showewd the extraordinary talents that broke the stereotype. Soon, a disc jockey named Alan Freed came along and ended the practice of "white cover versions" of black originals (i.e., Pat Boone's dreadful version of Fats Domino's Ain't That A Shame and Little Richard's Tutti Fruitto, The Diamonds stealing Little Darlin' from The Marigolds, ditto The McGuire Sisters' bubble popping The Moonglows Good Night Sweetheart on znc on). When Liberace performed his music, the focus was not on his sexual orientation, but on his enormous talents.

Unknown Liberace talent discovery Speculation over George Liberace's sexual orientation aside, the piano master was mentor to a young lady who performed under the name Assunta. Liberace was instrumental in attaining for Assunta a recording contract with Decca Records, then a major label. Despite the obvious talent and musical sensitivity of Assunta's piano magic, her lilting renditions of Cole Porter and Gershwin compositions unfortunately failed to "move plastic," the industry term for selling records. Decca released no further albums and the artistically gifted Assunta went sadly into oblivion. Decca peddled the album cuts to Newark, NJ's Synthetic Plastics owned by Irving Kasen which manufactured and peddled dollar each "Diplomat" and "Parade" labelled record albums, mass marketed to the K-Marts of the world. Assunta's album, named Assunta, on the original Decca Label, EP & LP, is a collector's item worth quite a bit of money, much, much more than a buck.

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