Music was an integral part of silent films, giving emotional texture or humorous voice to the films’ precious images. Different types of music and musicians accompanied them: orchestras, bands, photoplayers, pianists and organists. Leading the pack as one of Los Angeles’ premier silent film musicians was organist C. Sharpe Minor, a major talent with an attention-grabbing name.
Born June 24, 1885, in Louisiana, Charles Sulzer Sharpe Minor supposedly arrived in Los Angeles in 1907, but virtually nothing is known about him until he turns up in San Francisco with his wife Barbara Jane in 1917, accompanying films at the Rialto Theatre under the name C. Sharpe Minor. A few authors claim that he added his mother’s maiden name, Sharpe, realizing the eye-catching opportunities of employing this name on theatre marquees. Newspapers called him an extraordinary organist, and he played afternoon and evening shows adding a bit of entertainment with his trick effects and novelty arrangements.
Minor worked at the Rialto for a year before being appointed a first lieutenant in the Army in September 1918. Immediately upon war completion, the organist returned to the theatre, for a short time accompanying films and giving concerts, before landing his first Los Angeles job at the Million Dollar Theatre in March 1919. Ads proclaim him a master organist, and he even earned his own slot in the stage show. By 1920, however, Minor played at San Francisco’s California Theatre.
By late 1920, the Mission Theater on Broadway lured the “world’s premier organist” to play the Robert Morton wonder organ at all performances. Besides playing, Minor composed on the side for his C. Sharpe Minor Co., and sought copyright for “American Legion March” in January. John Cooper composed the lyrics, while Minor provided the music.
Los Angeles’ audiences appreciated him for his great showmanship, lightning speed at the keyboard and his novelty arrangements. The man was sharp in all ways, especially in drawing audience attention.
Within a few years, Minor toured the country giving concerts, traveling 12,500 miles across the United States and Canada. Minor returned to Los Angeles in late 1924 to play at Loew’s State, after what the Los Angeles Times called a “seventeen week Broadway engagement.” The paper also claimed that for the first time in local musical entertainment, an organist had purchased an organ at his own expense and installed it in a theater. Upon his return, Minor was proclaimed “the Wizard of the Wurlitzer.”
Edison signed him to a recording contract that would last for five years, during which time he recorded such songs as “Hold Me and Fold Me Close To Your Heart,” and “Officer of the Day March.” Soon, Minor also endorsed Link Company organs manufactured in New York.
Within a couple of years, the showman took on pupils as well, demonstrating and passing on his special skills. An ad in the Jan. 17, 1926, Los Angeles Times noted that “the eminent theatre organist” C. Sharpe Minor was establishing the Pacific Coast branch of the C. Sharpe Minor School for Theatrical Organists and would personally teach a small number of students.” “Special attention to Showmanship, Personality, Registration, Novelty Presentations, and Putting Yourself Over.” He would teach classes at the Epco Model Theater at 1122 W. 16th St, selecting a few talented players to play the 25,000 pipe organ, the Link-C. Sharpe Minor Unit Organ.
The Model Theater was just that, as it sat barely 100 people as possibly the smallest film theater in Los Angeles at the time. The Times called it a
one-man theater” because one operator in the projection booth could, through a remote, control the switchboard, operate organ music, stage lights, projectors and house lights. Creighton F. Davis called it a “theatre laboratory,” because exhibition businesses could try out ideas, lighting effects, and innovations for the benefit of theatre builders.
On March 19, 1927, Minor and auto dealer Victor E. Dalton bought the Glendale radio station KGFJ for commercial purposes, increasing the power to 500 watts and lengthening broadcast times to 21 hours a day. The master showman was also a budding capitalist.
In June 1928, Minor and others formed the Music and Radio Clinic of Los Angeles for $75,000 to manufacture and sell music and radio products, per Daily Variety. By mid 1928, Minor earned a half-hour slot on KNX radio.
When the Shrine Civic Auditorium opened in August 1928, Minor was hired as theatre organist, not only playing novelties but also acted as master of ceremonies for opening night. The Times called him an excellent musician, stating that he provided “one of the interesting diversions of the program” with his clever novelties and imitations. Crowds went wild for his act. Minor gave small concerts, accompanied sing-a-longs, performed with song slides, as well as accompanying films. One such number he created was entitled “Mysterious Voice in the Organ.”
Within a few days, the Shrine received the first Bush Synchrophone device that would cue music and sound to pictures, with Minor handling operation. With the coming of sound, however, the device was doomed.
By early September, the ambitious Minor had moved on from his other radio and teaching jobs to build an organ studio at the American Storage Building at 3634 Beverly Blvd. to both record and perform radio broadcasts, in addition to his work at the Shrine. He joined Zoellner Conservatory of Music as head of theatre organs to teach in his new facility.
For a four-day run of “television” at the Shrine in October 1928, Minor demonstrated “television” with life-size images of a couple projected on the screen while the voices were piped in via remote broadcast.
The new studio on Beverly Boulevard opened with a gigantic jazz party called “13th Heaven” on the roof of the building on Dec. 20, 1928, with C. Sharpe and jazz orchestra performing, along with dancers and the Sunkist Eddie Nelson Song and Dance Revue, while patrons dined and danced. Afterward, Minor would teach and broadcast organ recitals from the building with his three manual Robert Morton organ.
As his fame grew, Minor was hired to play at other theatres, including playing a series of “organ productions” at the United Artists Theatre in early 1929. Next, he helped open San Diego’s Copley Theatre in 1929. The flashy organist accompanied the theatre’s Fox Symphony Orchestra in “Slavische Rhapsodie” as the opening overture, and performed solo on the exit march concluding the evening.
Minor was partying like it was 1929, and soon the party was over. In late March, the organist and his wife filed for bankruptcy, trying to avoid the piper. Superior Court returned a verdict April 11, 1929, requiring him to pay Harvey Hamm and P. M. Smith $2,650 for a radio station they erected on the roof of the storage building, but which he had failed to pay them for.
A bench warrant was issued for his arrest on April 21, 1930, when he failed to appear for a trial for violating the State Wage Law in not paying his secretary since Feb. 16, 1929. It’s possible that he earned a short stint in jail for this escapade. He left town for a while, playing the organ in movie houses across the country.
Though he began playing on Los Angeles’ radio station KMTR in November 1932, Minor and his wife were forced to auction the furnishings of their 8001 W. 4th St. residence on March 21, 1933, including a $4,200 Knabe Grand Piano, Venetian furnishings, Persian rugs, art objects, sterling, and ivory and gold encrusted dinnerware.
Imaginative in thinking as well as playing, Minor started a dance orchestra under the name C. Sharpe Minor and his 13 Naturals, which began playing at the Player’s Tavern Supper Club in the Biltmore Hotel on May 24, 1933, with another playing the organ while he conducted. The unique group doesn’t seem to have lasted very long however.
In early 1934, the “originator of organ novelty, community sing, and chromatic (Hawaiian) slide” left KMTR for about six months, before returning. Performing on the radio became Minor’s bread and butter.
Nothing seemed to keep Minor down for long, however. He started a singing organization under his direction in Hollywood called Ensemble Concordia in July 1935, with its’ first major concert at the Church of St. Mary of the Angels. The group sang regularly with the Rev. Neal Dodd. Once again, the troupe failed to catch on. Dark days followed.
On April 10, 1937, Minor received a suspended one-year County Jail sentence after pleading guilty to issuing a bad check for $15.60, claiming that his students passed him bad checks. The judge ordered him to make full restitution on all 10 checks for a sum just under $100.
While Minor continued giving lessons and performing on the radio, he also occasionally composed songs as well as produced recordings. On Nov. 16, 1941, Minor copyrighted the song “Lovely,” with music by Leon Rosebrook and lyrics by Minor. He composed and published these songs through the Burbank company Associated Songwriters.
In 1947, he released the recording, “C. Sharp Minor Recordings of the Superentertainment Corporation of California, located at 823 N. Vine St. Minor was signed by RCA, which issued electronic organ recordings in the 1950s, including “When Day is Done-Twilight Melodies” played by C. Sharpe-Minor, “the Philosopher of the Organ.”
In November 1955, Minor took out a series of ads in The Times offering organ seminars of 16 weekly, two-hour sessions covering everything from classics to rock and roll, with each student receiving some of his original, spectacular arrangements. Classes started Nov. 30, 1955 at 4950 Franklin Ave., costing $50 for a man, and $75 for man and wife. The series was adaptable for all organs.
Sadly, for the last couple of years of his life, the once flexible Minor was confined to his home with arthritis, passing away Nov. 23, 1957. Daily Variety noted in his obituary that he was “the organist who pioneered organ concerts in film houses during the silent days.” Minor received a military funeral service at Veterans’ Chapel on the Sawtelle Campus Nov. 27, 1957, before burial at the National Veterans’ Cemetery.