The original ballpark organist for Dodger Stadium and the last surviving working keyboard accompanist from the silent-film era, Bob Mitchell, has died. He was 96.
The native Angelino, born in Sierra Madre in 1912, died this past week from congestive heart failure at Hancock Park Rehabilitation Center in Los Angeles.
From the first Dodger game played at the Chavez Ravine Stadium in 1962 until 1966, Mitchell was the keyboardist on the Wurlitzer double-keyboard organ with a 25-note bass pedal board. Up until that time he was best known as founder of the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir
and its director for over 60 years. They appeared in more than 100 motion pictures, starting with 1936’s That Girl from Paris.
Other films included the classics Going My Way
starring Bing Crosby from 1944 where they sang “Ave Maria” and 1947’s The Bishop’s Wife
. The choir was also documented in the 1941 Academy Award nominated short Forty Boys and a Song
. Over the years more than 600 kids between the ages of about 8 and 16 performed in the Mitchell choir. Alumni include members of the Modernaires, the
Lettermen, and the Sandpipers.
In 1924 at the age of 12, Mitchell began playing organ at the old Strand Theater
in Pasadena, improvising soundtracks to silent movies. But with the advent of talkies and The Jazz Singer
in 1927, Mitchell's first career as a silent-film accompanist was about over by the time he was 16. 65 years later, in 1992, he once again sat at the organ accompanying films at LA’s Silent Movie Theatre
on Fairfax Avenue. His last public performance was this past May when he opened the Last Remaining Seats
film series at the Orpheum Theatre
in downtown LA.
Bob Mitchell began taking piano lessons at four years of age. He attended the New York College of Music before returning to Los Angeles in 1934; eventually he graduated from what is now Cal State L.A. and Trinity College in London. During the Second World War Mitchell served in the Navy and played keyboards for the Armed Forces Radio Orchestra under the direction of Meredith Willson, who later wrote The Music Man