Who knew Liberace rocked? (video)

Those of us who remember Liberace always thought of him as the guy who made Elton John look straight.

But in fact, Liberace was a tremendous piano player. I vaguely remember that fact, but I just too young to notice much beyond the outfits.

Check out this video of him from the 1940s and it’s clear why he was the sensation he was. Amazing piano player.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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  • Jolosturo

    My husband and I got to see Liberace in Vegas in 1980. I wasn’t thrilled–I was in my late 20s and he was someone my PARENTS liked. Well, talk about not prejudging–he was, amazingly, entertaining. Well, why else would he have his very own show in Vegas? He was funny, outrageous, the costumes and stage effects were, probably, more spectacular than Cher’s, and so talented! He came out on stage in a Rolls-Royce and his “chauffeur” was dressed in black leather hot pants, tie, no shirt, limo driver’s hat–a hot, studly young man. As unacceptable as it was, at any time of his life, to be “out”–he was as “out” as a person could be without shouting it from the rooftops. And nobody cared.

  • mrspeel

    I think this was from the TV program he had back in the 50s. I used to watch it with my family when I was a child and even then, I enjoyed watching and listening to his music.

  • Well done

  • The Dark Avenger

    My piano teacher used to say that Liberace could’ve been a good classical pianist, but that he chose to be a popular entertainer instead(not that she thought there was anything wrong with that).

  • mr_ed

    Horowitz had his piano shipped to each performance. Now we know why!

  • Sweetie

    Horowitz did the same thing. Weighting is a matter of individual taste. There are drawbacks to heavy resistant keys and drawbacks to feather-light non-resistant keys.

    Horowitz played with flat fingers and well into old age, so he needed a light action.

  • Randy

    The crystal piano is now owned by the SMithsonian Institution. They had it on display several years ago.

  • Ninong

    My impression of him in the 1950’s was that he certainly had the ability to be a great pianist but his shtick was to embellish everything with an almost obscene amount of flash. I’m talking about his technique, not his clothes, makeup and candelabra. To be perfectly honest, I always thought of Liberace as a terrible pianist and still do. He was a showman, like P. T. Barnum was a showman, but his piano playing was gross. I thought he was a disgrace to the piano. That’s just my opinion. My mother adored him and wouldn’t miss any of his weekly TV shows. She was hooked on Liberace and Lawrence Welk, with the Lovely Lennon Sisters. Liberace had his brother George on the violin as a sidekick.

    He made a ton of money, that’s for sure. Remember when he paraded his then-16- (or was it supposed to be 17?)year-old boyfriend Scott out on stage in that tight-fitting, baby blue drum major’s uniform with the chauffeur’s cap? He introduced him to the audience on stage has his new driver. I said to myself at the time, Oh. My. God!!! You had to see it to believe it. It was so obvious what was going on there that I couldn’t believe all the little old blue-haired ladies wouldn’t pass out.

    Yes, I’m old enough to remember everything that happened in the 1950’s and most of what happened in the 1940’s. Remember when Confidential magazine first came out with all their gossipy articles about the sex lives and extra-marital escapades of certain stars? That was back when Rock Hudson’s agent forced him to hurry up and marry the agent’s secretary in an attempt to cover up his sexual orientation, which Confidential threatened to expose, but they were bribed to kill the story in return for other “assistance” in the future. I remember when I was shocked that they outed Van Johnson, reporting on an alleged hotel episode, or attempted episode, between Van Johnson and a certain other male star who wasn’t receptive to Van Johnson’s attention. They outed a lot of stars but most of them were either over-the-hill or never all that big in the first place. The studios protected the big stars back then, and besides, the Mafia was a big influence on Hollywood and Vegas when I was young, and you didn’t mess with them.

  • 2patricius2

    I used to watch every show he had on TV. Went to a concert in St. Louis when he was on one of his last tours. The theater was packed. Great show with his piano playing and a host of other talented performers.

  • These are interesting comments. There is another aspect to judgments about his talent. In the past and even today a number of people who consider themselves knowledgeable about music disparage his abilities. They complain that he was not a “serious” musician and that his talents were insignificant in comparison to “true” virtuosos such as Horowitz or Cziffra as well as real jazz greats such as At Tatum and Fats Waller. Well, it is true that those classical giants could play the classics better than Liberace. But they were better than most anyone in the world. Yes, Erroll Garner played Misty, which he wrote, better than Liberace. Gershwin, Oscar Levant, and Earl Wild played Gershwin better. Tatum and Waller played jazz better. But Liberace played a huge range of music extremely well. Many who criticized his musicality did not even know how to play themselves. Liberace began playing at age 4. The great Paderewski discovered him and encouraged his career. I think he had a debut performance with the Chicago Symphony at age 14. When these people diss Liberace I sometimes say “Well, how old were you when you debuted at a world class symphony? ” He probably could have been one of the better, if not one of the very top, classical pianists had he continued in that direction. And he probably could have been an excellent jazz pianist (not as good as Art Tatum…but who was?) if he had chosen jazz. But he was excellent at classics, jazz, Latin, romantic pop, ragtime, boogie woogie and all sorts of other styles. Few could top him in any one style but I cannot think of anyone who displayed such versatility at such a high level. Well, maybe Leonard Bernstein was as versatile but he was a very different type of entertainer. When you have to pull up names like Leonard Bernstein, Horowitz, and Art Tatum to try to find someone better, you know you are dealing with someone who is, in his own way, a musical genius.

  • IIRC, when critics trashed Liberace’s glitzy performances, he responded by saying that their negative reviews sent him “crying all the way to the bank”.

  • tomtallis

    He did have a little secret, though. He had most of the weignt removed from his piano keys so they were very easy to push down, almost to the point that if you blew on one a note would sound. That’s how he got so much velocity.

  • MyrddinWilt

    He was good later on in life, but I don’t remember him being anywhere near that good.

    There was a medical incident in ’57 and I don’t think he was quite the same afterwards.

  • What a delectable parfait!

  • Liberace was a Victor Borge with an actual sense of humor and drag flash.

  • Jim Olson

    I did, and I’m 43. But, I’m weird.

  • keirmeister

    I’m not yet 40, but I always knew Liberace was a virtuoso. Funny thing is, back in the 80’s, I didn’t really understand the concept of homosexuality, and Liberace, along with his flamboyance, fit in pretty well with the androgyny of the time. I figured the outlandish outfits where the attempts of an old guy trying to fit in with the younger New Wave musicians.

    One of my favorite performances was one he did on Carson with a crystal piano. Say what you will about Liberace, but the brother had flair!

  • ‘Fruit’ was the operative word to indicate ‘gay’? That entire line — “a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love” — every single word of it shrieks “HE’S GAY!”


  • Tatts

    “yeah, I thought the flamboyant thing was his gig”

    No, that was Rip Taylor.

  • MyrddinWilt

    At the time gay sex was illegal in the UK. So telling people to stand up and be counted was like telling people to do that in Iran.

    The libel lawsuit was a huge mistake for him, having won the award in the 50s he couldn’t come out without facing a perjury prosecution.

    But the UK libel system has always been a corrupt scheme to privatize censorship. I am having a hard time remembering any case that went to trial where the plaintif was not a complete crook.

  • I saw a number of his early performances and he was magnificent. The whole flamboyant thing came much later, but only after gay performers started getting the wink & nod, that their sexual orientation would not be talked about as long as they themselves didn’t directly contradict the facade.

    I only knew about his earlier presentation mode because I went through a ‘classic films’ phase in my early adult years.

  • Alison

    In the 1950’s, my grandmother’s hairdresser told her a homophobic joke about Liberace, which my father repeated to me in the 1970’s. I think it was well known that he was queer for decades. But he couldn’t afford to stop denying it.

    One of so many celebrities who died of AIDS in those awful years before AZT. Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, Robert Reed, Anthony Perkins, Rudolph Nureyev, and the list went on.

    May no one ever again die of a disease that makes them fear outing more than death.

  • rerutled

    The ladies dig double time.

  • medium lebowski

    Liberace was a life brightener.

  • CattyNineTails

    Mr. Arovosis,

    If you’re just now discovering that Liberace “rocked,” perhaps you’re also unaware of how he “rolled” back in the days he felt it necessary to conceal his sexual orientation … ?

    On September 26, 1956, the day after Liberace arrived in London, a scurrilous column written by William Connor (under the byline Cassandra) was published in the Daily Mirror which said, among many other things, that the then-world-famous painist/entertainer was:

    “…the summit of sex – the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want… a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.”

    Construing the word “fruit” as an accusation he was a homosexual, Liberace made headlines all over the world by suing the Mirror for libel. At the trial, the following exchange occurred between the under-oath Liberace and his British legal representative, Gilbert “The Fox” Beyfus:

    “Are you a homosexual?” Beyfus queried him. “No, sir,” the pianist replied simply … “Have you ever induled in homosexual practices?” Again, the showman answered simply and directly: “No, sir, never in my life.” He did not stop even there. On he plunged. “I am against the practice because it offends convention and it offends society,” he finished.

    (excerpted from Liberace: An American Boy by Darden Asbury Pyron)

    At the six-day hearing’s conclusion, the jury found for Liberace and awarded him a then-record £8,000 in damages (about £500,000 in today’s money). It would be decades before the press again speculated about Liberace’s sexuality.

    Contrary to those who might imagine I’m reciting this history in order to shame Liberace, it’s rather simply to mark the immense progress made by the LGBT community over the past 5 decades and to say THANKS to everyone who’s fought for our rights so that no LGBT will ever again feel such a desperate need to hide.

  • Actually, yeah, I thought the flamboyant thing was his gig. Had no idea he was this straight-laced guy who performed in old movies. Though a lot of the Lucy guests, people on Match Game etc, you don’t realize they’re actually old stars until you get much older.

  • Yeah, I’m old enough to know who he is, and remember him from Lucy, but beyond that, I didn’t really know him as a performer.

  • Moi. I was too young. I saw him on Lucy and stuff, maybe Carson. I rarely saw him actually perform.

  • pricknick

    The real question is: Who didn’t know?

  • Indigo

    the aging process, that is.

  • Indigo

    I’m disappointed to learn that you didn’t realize what a great pianist Liberace was, John. It goes to show how young you are that you didn’t see past the glitz. Don’t worry about it, though, because the aging will remedy that failing. ;-)

  • Did you think he was popular because he was a big Queen? He was popular in spite of being a big Queen – so he had to have talent.

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