Orpheum Theatre Group Announces Record Release, Featuring Tony Thomas And The Orpheum’s 95-Year-Old Mighty Wurlitzer Organ
MEMPHIS LISTENING LAB ALBUM RELEASE PARTY DECEMBER 6
The Orpheum Theatre Group is excited to announce the release of A Very Mighty Christmas – Tony Thomas plays the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ – the first full length recording of the Orpheum’s beloved 95-year-old instrument just in time for the holidays. The album is available now for $35 exclusively on vinyl at orpheumgiftshop.com.
“We hope that our audiences will enjoy having a piece of Orpheum history that they will be able to cherish for holidays to come,” said Brett Batterson, President & CEO of the Orpheum Theatre Group.
The project truly began in 2017, when the Orpheum Theatre Group launched a campaign to restore the theatre’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ to its 1928 splendor in honor of the historic Orpheum Theatre’s 90thbirthday.
The process of restoration involved removing the organ from the Orpheum, shipping it to JL Weiler Inc in Chicago where it was rebuilt, and then returning it to its place of importance with a special homecoming concert in fall 2020. It was at this concert that the idea for producing a record was born.
After three years of preparation, the organ was recorded July 12-15, 2023, by GRAMMY Award winning producer Matt Ross Spang and then pressed locally by Memphis Record Pressing.
The album features arrangements of beloved holiday classics by local keys player and Orpheum House Organist Tony Thomas spanning from the modern sensation “All I Want for Christmas is You” to “Sleigh Ride” to Peanuts classics “Christmas Time is Here” and “Skating” and many more.
“The recording of this album marks Memphis’ first real opportunity to hear the Orpheum’s Mighty Wurlitzer theater pipe organ in pristine sonic condition,” said Tony Thomas. “I am thrilled to have been included in this project, and my sincere hope is that all who listen will come away from it feeling some of the emotion which our instrument is surely capable of imparting, as well as letting some of that same emotion add a dash of joy to the Holiday Season!”
To celebrate the launch of this album, the Orpheum Theatre Group will be hosting a free listening event in collaboration with the Memphis Listening Lab at Crosstown Concourse on Wednesday December 6 from 6:30-8:30pm. Guests will enjoy light refreshments, hear from those associated with the project, and can purchase the album on site.
A Very Mighty Christmas – Tony Thomas plays the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ is produced by the Orpheum Theatre Group (COO Dacquiri Baptiste and Public Relations Director Kristin Bennett) as well as Tony Thomas, Christopher Blank of WKNO-FM, and Matt Ross-Spang of Southern Grooves.
The Orpheum Theatre Group presents A Very Mighty Christmas – Tony Thomas plays the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ is on sale now for $35 at orpheumgiftshop.com and available for pickup only.
About the Orpheum Theatre Group:
The mission of the Orpheum Theatre Group is to enhance the communities we serve by utilizing the performing arts to entertain, educate, and enlighten while preserving the historic Orpheum Theatre and the Halloran Centre for Performing Arts & Education. For more information, visit https://orpheum-memphis.com/.
About the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ:
The Orpheum’s Mighty Wurlitzer Organ was bult in North Tonawanda, New York in 1928 and was shipped to the Orpheum on September 25th of that same year. The $19,000 instrument was originally purchased to play for vaudeville shows and silent movies and was most recently enjoyed by patrons through the Orpheum’s annual Summer Movie Series. After a study of the organ was commissioned by the Orpheum Theatre Group and completed by JL Weiler, Inc. of Chicago, the nation’s most noted restorer of theatre organs, it was determined that approximately $500,000 worth of rebuilding was needed to fully restore the instrument. They estimated that without the major improvements the organ would have been inoperable within the next year and a half. Generous Memphians then rallied to “Save the Wurlitzer” in 2017. In June 2018, the organ was packed up and shipped to Chicago for a full restoration. After over a year of undergoing a complete restoration by JL Weiler Inc. in Chicago, the Orpheum’s Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ returned to Memphis in fall 2020. It is a registered 3 manual, 13 rank 240 style Wurlitzer. Its horseshoe console rests on its own hydraulic lift that can raise or lower it out of the orchestra pit. Noted organists have included Vincent Astor, Bill Oberg, Art Hays, John Hiltonsmith, Milton Slosser, Tony Thomas and more.