Accordion Articles - Who was first?


Written by: Unknown
Publication: Accordion News
Date written: August 1935

Who was first? Pietro Deiro and Guido Deiro: both pioneers of the piano accordion in America and both in disagreement as to their early playing dates and places.

Guido asserts that he was the first one to introduce the piano accordion to the stage, at The American Theatre in San Francisco, in 1910. Pietro asserts that he first played the piano accordion in 1907, at the Washington Square Theatre in San Francisco and that his was the first instrument with a piano keyboard constructed in America and presented to the American public.

Guido and Pietro each have a great following in the accordion world and their conflicting claims have divided accordionists into two controversial camps. They both offer proof substantiating their respective statements and Accordion News earnestly opens its columns to all those who may have enlightening data to add so that accordion history can be documented. Guido has not made a direct statement to Accordion News and this magazine and it's readers cannot form an opinion until all facts are verified.

The well-reputed Santo Santucci, of Lyon & Healy, Inc., Chicago, says:
"Being one of the first accordion players ever to bring this instrument on the stage in the United States and abroad and having irrefutable proofs of what I write below, I feel it is my duty as an honest man, to correct a statement made by a speaker at the convention of the National Association of Music Merchants, held at the Steven's Hotel in Chicago. The speaker is unknown to me, but it is evident that he is new in the accordion field and certainly misinformed.

The statement I wish to correct was to the effect that Pietro Deiro was the first player to introduce the piano accordion on the stage. This is not true, as all those who are aware of the true facts know.

Guido Deiro, the elder of the Deiros, was the first to introduce the piano accordion on the stage. The year was 1910 and the place the "American Theatre" in San Francisco, California. Guido Deiro was billed as "The Premier Piano accordionist" in recognition of this primacy. Guido Deiro was also the first to make "Victor" records. If I remember rightly, this honor was also wrongly credited to Pietro Deiro by the unknown speaker.

I believe it is only fair to give credit where it belongs and I trust the honest policy of Accordion News to give publicity to this letter. Pietro Deiro and Guido Deiro are friends of mine, and it is for this reason that I feel compelled to write these lines. The truth will never hurt anybody".

(Ed. Note: The speaker referred to is assumed to be George M. Bundy, President of Accordiana, Inc. and Secretary of Excelsior Accordion Mfg. Company, who introduced Pietro Deiro at the first of the two concerts given at the Steven's Hotel in Chicago during the recent Music Trades Convention.)
Undoubtedly Santo Santucci represents the opinion of many hundreds of accordionists in Chicago and other cities of the Western states and Accordion News is pleased to give space to the views of those who apparently represent the views of a great accordionist nucleus and most probably those of Guido Deiro himself.

Accordion News' Chicago correspondent, Andy Rizzo, talented and active young accordionist and accredited teacher, takes up the story at this point and reports:

"Cheered by the accordionists of Chicago, after a stay of over a month in our City, Guido Deiro left for the West and North West on July 26th, accompanied by the best wishes of all his old and new friends.

As the readers of this magazine know, Guido Deiro came to Chicago to sign a contract with the Italo-American Accordion Mfg. Co., by whom he was granted all the states of the Pacific Coast and British Columbia in Canada as his exclusive territory for the sale of Italo-American instruments. As a demonstrator of these accordions, Mr Deiro attended the convention of the National Association of Music Merchants in Chicago.

On July 25th on the initiative of the aforementioned company, a banquet was given in honor of Guido Deiro attended by accordionists, manufacturers, dealers in musical instruments, lovers of music and personal friends of the guest of honor.

Guido Deiro needs no introduction to anyone. He, who first introduced the piano accordion on the stage as "a solo" instrument introduced himself at the banquet, giving a sketch of his adventurous life and mentioning the fact that, besides introducing the piano accordion on the stage, he was the first to play this instrument over the radio, in concerts, on records, and on the Vitaphone. This part of his speech was met with approval by Santo Santucci, his old friend, who knows all this to be nothing less than the truth, and who bitterly complained that full recognition is wilfully withheld from Mr Deiro in certain quarters.

Guido Deiro is a fine speaker but it must be admitted that he is a better player of the piano accordion. He was applauded in his speech but admired and loved as a great artist for his playing. He played his new 'Guido Deiro Italotone' which was just out of the factory. Santo Santucci and his son Nick played after Guido Deiro and they had their share of applause, none more sincere than that coming from Mr. Deiro himself who embraced his friend Santucci.

The success of the banquet was assured by the presence of all the leading accordionists of Chicago, including Mario DeBiase and Walter Litus- 'the two inseparables' as they are called around Chicago, your correspondent (Andy Rizzo) and many others. Manufacturers of piano accordions and dealers in musical instruments were present too: Messrs.: Petromilli, Piatenesi and Roscinani of the Italo-American Accordion Co., Messrs. Keenley and Parker of the Lyon & Healy Co., Inc., etc. Mrs. Litus must also be mentioned, being the only lady present and therefore the life of the party."

Guido Deiro's career as an accordionist is abound with facts and activities which have become of great public interest over time. When vaudeville was at its height, Guido Deiro was living with Mae West, the now famous motion picture actress. It has always happened that women have played an important and inspirational part in Guido's artistic life. Accordion News would like Ms West to furnish us with any proof she may have to substantiate the controversial claim that Guido Deiro was the first player to introduce the piano accordion on the stage in America.

Through the courtesy of a former Loew Circuit Manager, who booked Mae West and Guido together at the time they made their famous agreement not to appear without the other, Accordion News has two photographs of Mae West dating back to that time, whose value and illustrative importance cannot be over emphasized. The photographs were taken at the Mecca Studios in Indianapolis, approximately twenty years ago.

Our informer says Mae West's part of the act was to sing and tell breezy stories and jokes. It will be of interest to Accordion News readers to know that Mae West had an accordion which was lent to her by Pietro Deiro and belonged to Mrs. Pietro Deiro. Apparently, Mae West could not play the instrument, so while she simulated playing, Guido Deiro, in the wings, would supply the real music.

At the end of the playing and on acknowledging the applause, Mae would open her accordion box and produce a funny, discordant sound while bowing. Once her accordion disappeared, Pietro Deiro claiming it after he finally located it in a pawnshop.

Guido and Mae were the pampered stars of the vaudeville stage at the time, and so was Pietro Deiro. Pietro was booked for as much as four hundred dollars a week. Guido and Mae lived together for a period of about four years - a record for Guido. Usually they don't last that long!

A photograph of Pietro Deiro is claimed to have been taken 27 years ago with the first piano accordion constructed in America by Pascuale Petromilli (known under the trade name of Guerrini) and played by Pietro for the first time in the Washington Square Theatre in San Francisco. Finau Piatenesi made the decorations on the box; Anthony Petromilli, brother of Pascuale Petromilli (recently deceased) made the reeds. Another Piatenesi, presently with the Colombo Accordion Company of San Francisco, made the keyboard. These gentlemen should remember when they made the accordion as this instrument was not easy to manufacture. It was "made over" three times, first playing with two and three sets of reeds and later with three and four sets of reeds, with a switch operated from behind the frame of the treble keyboard. It can be seen in this photo that the treble keyboard had 42 keys instead of the 41 now in vogue- the extra key consisting of an E on the lower octave. There were only 108 bass buttons.

Pietro Deiro says:

"I am sorry that I have no programs of the premiere of my accordion performance in the Washington Square Theatre in San Francisco, 27 years ago. At that time it was not customary to issue programs for this kind of vaudeville performance. Most assuredly such a program would settle dates, doubts and misinterpretations for good, but we cannot revive the past in order to procure a theatre program as documentary data for the history of the piano accordion. If anyone by any chance has a printed proof of one of my later performances not more than a year later, I'd very much appreciate receiving it.

What I remember very distinctly is that the first night of my accordion playing in San Francisco must have been in the fall. It was raining very heavily, one of those thick autumn rains of the Coast. I played with a guitarist and while we were performing on the stage one of the bass buttons got stuck. I couldn't go on and the guitarist had to continue alone. We also had a singer with us, and I still recollect this detail: Anthony Petromilli was in the audience, realised the predicament I was in and came rushing back stage, screwdriver in hand. While the singer was entertaining the public, Petromilli fixed my bass button. It was then realized that a new accessory was needed to stop the basses from going all the way in, to avoid a repeat of such an embarrassing situation.

My brother Guido was not yet in America. He was still in Italy. I sent him his ticket a year after this performance. My brother could not have played in San Francisco at the time of my first presentation of the piano accordion because I had not yet sent him the money to come. Let it be well understood that what I claim is that the first piano accordion built in America and presented publicly to the American people was made for and played by me.

Before the piano accordion was introduced to America, Italy had it. I also remember very clearly that I introduced my brother Guido on the American stage and that once I paid four dollars for a second-hand full dress suit for Guido (in Seattle) who was scheduled to appear with me in San Francisco.

We played together and we both shared great successes, Guido becoming rapidly very popular, especially among restaurant waiters for his large and ostentatious tips. A few years later in New York, Mae West, Guido and I went for supper to the old Gillette's restaurant. The meal finished, my brother left a two-dollar tip on the table. As he rose to leave, I picked up one of the dollars and later went fifty-fifty with Mae West. This got to be a habit with us.

I owe it to the public and to my respect for truthfulness, to tell those circumstantial facts which prove convincingly that the narrator has lived through the great events surrounding the point of discussion."
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