Anthony Galla-Rini, 102, Ambassador of the Accordion
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Anthony Galla-Rini, a self-taught musician who strove to raise the accordion’s profile by composing, arranging and playing classical and popular melodies for the instrument, has died. He was 102.
Galla-Rini died July 30 at Corona Regional Medical Center in Corona, Calif., after suffering a heart seizure, his son Ron said.
Galla-Rini played a variety of woodwind and brass instruments, but the accordion was his passion.
“It was his entire life’s work, to elevate the accordion to a concert instrument,” the performer’s son said.
Born in 1904 into a musical family from Verona, Italy, Galla-Rini spent most of his childhood crisscrossing the country on the vaudeville circuit with his three sisters.
Together they played with many vaudeville headliners, including Bob Hope, Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers.
With virtually no formal education, Galla-Rini taught himself to read music and begun composing and arranging classical and popular pieces for the accordion.
After the Galla-Rini act disbanded in 1932, he performed as a solo musician and toured the United States and Europe over the next several decades.
Galla-Rini eventually settled in Southern California, where he broke into the movie business and played the accordion on many film scores, most memorably in 1944’s “Laura” and 1952’s “High Noon.”
Throughout his career, Galla-Rini shared his passion for the accordion through private lessons and group seminars. In 1990, he founded summer camps for accordionists in British Columbia, Oregon and San Diego.
At those camps he would arrange such standard tunes as “Old Man River” and “God Bless America” for ensembles often numbering 30 or 40 accordionists. As he began to slow down with age, Kjell Holmes, president of the San Diego chapter of the Accordion Lovers Society International, took over running the camps.
“It was not new music, but familiar songs, arranged for accordion,” Holmes said of Galla-Rini’s adaptations. “That really grabs people.”