published Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Mighty Wurlitzer’s 90th Birthday Party - Aug 23

About Ken Double

• Grew up in Chicago.

• Began taking organ lessons at age 8.

• Earned degree in radio/TV from Butler University.

• Helped raise money to install a Wurlitzer at Long Center in LaFayette, Ind. Played that organ for its 1982 premiere; been playing concerts since.

• President and chief executive officer of the ATOS since 2008.

• Made 18 recordings, seven tours of Australia and New Zealand and has numerous other credits to his musical career.


• What: “The General” silent film accompanied by the Wurlitzer pipe organ.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23.

• Where: Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.

• Admission: $7.50.

• Phone: 423-642-TIXS.

• Website:

Other than an occasional rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance” at a local high school’s commencement, Chattanoogans rarely have the opportunity to hear the Tivoli Theatre’s Wurlitzer pipe organ played.

That changes Saturday night, Aug. 23.

Ken Double of Atlanta, national president of the American Theatre Organ Society, will be in town to play the Wurlitzer, providing background music and sound effects for the silent film “The General.” The movie screening celebrates the 90th anniversary of the installation of the Wurlitzer in the Tivoli by showcasing the organ as it was originally meant for use.

“It’s wonderful that this organ still resides in its original home,” Double says.

When the theater organ was installed in 1924, it was played for civic programs, provided the soundtrack and sound effects for silent movies and for other musical performances at the Tivoli. The Austin pipe organ in Memorial Auditorium was also installed that year, but the Tivoli’s Wurlitzer is about 17 percent of the size of the Austin, says Jeff Scofield, co-chairman of the Chattanooga Music Club’s auditorium advisory committee, which oversees maintenance of the Austin organ.

“Now there are less than 100 theater organs left in the United States like the one in the Tivoli,” Scofield says of the Wurlitzer. The Wurlitzer is maintained by members of the Atlanta chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society, many of whom live in this area. The Atlanta chapter of ATOS is partnering with the Chattanooga Music Club and Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum to present Saturday’s movie party.

“The General,” starring Buster Keaton, is ranked No. 18 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Best American Movies of All Time. It’s a natural choice for this birthday party because of Chattanooga’s railroad history and the city’s ties to the 1862 Great Locomotive Chase when Andrews’ Raiders commandeered the train in North Georgia and took it northward to Chattanooga.

“It’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen, sound or silent,” says Scofield. “Keaton does all his own stunts and was pretty seriously injured doing some of them. It’s a lot of fun, a unique experience to hear with the organ accompaniment As far as public events, it’s been decades since the Wurlitzer was played for the public. It’s an honor to have Ken Double come to Chattanooga to play the Wurlitzer.”

Scofield points out that since there is no score to “The General,” it’s up to Double to create one. He improvises his own “soundtrack” while simultaneously watching the movie.

“He gets his sound cues from the action. He creates the mood with the organ,” explains Scofield.

Contact Susan Pierce at or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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