Rosa Rio and Tara Schroeder

Recorded December 19, 2008 Archived December 19, 2008 00:00 minutes
Audio not available

Interview ID: MBX004731


Rosa Rio, 106, is interviewed by her friend, Tara Schroeder, 45.

Subject Log / Time Code

Tampa Theatre; pipe organ; when she first heard a theatre organ; pipe organ on an elevator
How she felt when the talkies came in; Al Jolson singing, “Mammie”; that was the end of her movie organist career
NBC didn’t want to hire a woman; hired her for one week only; she stayed at NBC for 27 years
Eleanor Roosevelt; recording shows for the soldier’s overseas; met Eleanor Roosevelt in a studio; describes Eleanor; “I was floored by her”
childhood illness; declared that she would grow up to be an actress and wear pretty jewelry


  • Rosa Rio
  • Tara Schroeder

Recording Location

MobileBooth East

Partnership Type



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00:04 My name is Tara Schroeder. I am 45 today's date is December 19th, 2008 murder in Tampa, Florida and my friend. I'm sitting with my friend the lovely the Saucy Rosario. Well, this is news because I've spent my entire life trying to be what I have not been so my name is Rosa real and I am very proud of the fact that I was born in 1902. And the fact is I look well my face is marvellous. I don't have a gray hair. I'm full of pep and I'm a very interesting Pepsi little well sexy girl at 106th and I'll floor anybody that can compete with me today. I am still very very interesting.

01:04 And music

01:07 Thank you.

01:10 All I live down in

01:14 Camper no Sun City Center. Now Sun City Center is is not very far from Tampa. But the reason that I am here is the Tampa theater has a big theater pipe organ and the story of my life began with a pipe organ and that's why I am playing the pipe organ today and here in the Tampa. We have a three-man your world of shirt and a 14 rank, I believe and it is in perfect condition sounds great and it takes me back to the old days that I first heard a theater organ. I was up from the south visiting and New Orleans from up to Cleveland, Ohio now, that's a long distance for walking and I and I

02:14 I had gone to my first big theater because we had nothing like that. As you know, it was much later that we had the Saenger Theater in New Orleans, but this was way before and the things that I remembered so vividly was that when I went into this magnificent beautiful edifice the stars were in the sky and to the right. I saw a little tiny pinpoint of a light and the light grew bigger and bigger as the sound grew larger and stronger and up came up pipe organ. I want to mail the fader. I had never never heard such a sound and I was just floored. I was thrilled to death and I was somewhere by 17 or 18

03:14 And fishing when I walked out on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio, I looked up at the sky and I said now I know what I want to be in life. And it so happened that I picked up a magazine a few months later and it said that the Eastman School of Music in Rochester New York was the only school in the USA that taught the art of improvisation for motion pictures.

03:48 Oh that just hit me. I knew where I wanted to go and I just could scrape up enough money to sign up for one semester. I fell in love with the the art and was thrilled to death at the end of the semester. I sadly and I guessed her family was interviewed by the manager of the theater the Eastman School of Music. I also had the big theater attached to it and he asked me what was my future and I said that I've run out of money and he said what you mean what I said, this is the end of the semester and I don't have enough money for another semester to stay here.

04:42 And he said, excuse me, please and I waited quite a while. He came back. He said that you are signed up for the next one. They gave me a position of $25 a week to play for in on Bosphorus ballet, which they featured on the Eastman School of Music Theater at that was attached on the stage. So she taught ballet and then she had our week's performance. So I was their rehearsal pianist and I got to stay and finish my course that I graduated from from East and all because of this wonderful man. Mr. Fete f a i t. I think his first name was William a bill and it it was just a seed of the my whole future career, which I followed and him to this day as you know with you sitting there.

05:42 It's dead though. They the smell of the theater as never ever left me. I just love the theater. I just love the Argan and then life if a person has a deep love at a deep interest, you're not conscious of yourself and age you're conscious of the the Consciousness that your end that that's rain spots. Joy and happiness to you and I owe everything to to that and I have you well, can I sign up for the next 10 years can years?

06:24 Rosa after you graduated you ended up going back down to New Orleans to work at the Saenger theater and you were there when the big flood of 27 happen at like yes ice I have slept on the floor of the mezzanine and we took down the Drover's to have something to put over us like a blanket and 50 rolls and the orchestra was underwater and fortunately with had run the elevator up of the organ that is the console and we got that up and started the pit Orchestra. Unfortunately, it didn't reach the top because the little windows on the street broke down and the water came in from Rampart and a lot of the issues like the bass fiddle.

07:24 Drama some things like that are lost but they are again was saved. Console and all them and of course the pipes were that were protected. It was quite quite a saved and I did I think it was a couple of days before we could reach our home in a rowboat and the and I relived Uptown and when we got to our home their door silly was one inch of water coming in the house and they had reported that wish I had missed say though.

08:05 Family next door he had just recently it was a two-story house they had and he recently had lost his wife and he had to two or three children in a boat came by a little bit little skiff boat and selling bread. Now, this is worth back in 1927 that this guy had those dogs that they ask for bread $1.

08:32 And paperwork as I couldn't get out of their homes, you know to get anything. I just saw this man ever did wrong and he said I needed bread by here. Should I have three children myself? I Endure what how much always has a dollar loaf.

08:52 Have this fella says just a minute. I'll be back with the money. He came back and he gave the chair at this guy out came the weather this chair as I got to. He jumps at his he and his whole boat and all the bread went into the water. I'll never forget that for that. That was something on the serious side Will Rogers who in from California and gave a performance free to help all of those that has off suffering to make laws and Joe from there on I want to tell you Will Rogers was I said, you didn't have to go down to the st. Louis Cathedral for him. It was just wonderful and of course, he made a lot of money for the people to help them through that too terrible time. So I remember a lot of things close to your dad were not

09:52 Apart of the Mardi Gras in the parade. I know why you were in New Orleans you were working with silent films and then the talkies came. Yes. Well, I was put over at the with Re Max turmeric to the Strand on baronne Street had we had worked up a terrific clientele over there because so we did a little personality things at the organ and I and I think of the publicity of my one. Drew in a lot of crowd I was sitting at the oldest one afternoon and we had a spotlight and down on the day from the stage walked a rat who made the jump and jumped on the console. I think I jumped the whole railing to the first season fell in love fell in the lap of some guy and later. I found out he was a

10:52 And I went to if he said for that act I will treat you free. I made one jump and I would wow this rat jumps on the console, but he we came or he or whatever became a confused because the lights were so bright in his eyes. He got the welder and he didn't know how to make his Escape. I will remember that is one of my big performances at the Strand Theater on Broad Street.

11:26 And what about when the talkies came in? What happened? How did you feel?

11:30 That was everything but a casket was there that that night they had Al Jolson singing Mammy.

11:44 And that was the end of my career had it was like we had a few months notice or weeks notice or even days notice. It just came in overnight and Hollywood said we have spent so much money in Investments That is got to go so they didn't they didn't try to compete they just throw us out and so we were without jobs and everything because they said they could have made we're not in a position to have shows compete. They had to win too much money. And so we had an agreement that we could keep our jobs for a certain amount of time because they had many breakdowns. So here would be the sound at all and somebody is making all beautiful's music our love safe and all of a sudden the sound goes

12:44 And you're sitting mumbling and you don't hear sound all the scare the picture skipped as a wrong wrong words coming out of the guys bro. I have no then I get a red light jump on the organ and covered his block it out, you know, so that just lasted for a few months and then we were out and death. So I finally went to buy boss at the Saenger theater and I said what goes and he said Rosa

13:18 Headed for New York, if you can't make it there, you can't make it anywhere. So I packed by the Ford car and hit it for New York. I didn't make it so I would call walrus bar back and I told him a sad story and wasn't anything I could come back to New Orleans for he said Rosa if you can't make it there, you can't make it anywhere. I know you were in New York and you eventually applied for a job as a temporary organ is to the NBC was that all about?

13:53 So eventually I heard that there was a vacancy and they particularly I was very forced it in in my music that I could not transpose he's like for singers, so I went over to NBC and they I wouldn't say they welcomed me with open arms because the first thing they said was that we don't have any women on the honor roll. And so I was very angry and I said I didn't know that you were applying for a man or woman. I thought you were applying for an organist.

14:32 And I kind of stunned them and they said well, we're how are you for this week?

14:38 So I was the only woman there on the staff. They were old man show at the end of the week. I said, but how did things go? So the boss in the music department said just fine. I said find then I'll feel better Monday or always says, I don't know why but I said, what are you? Well, he said though. What are you trying to get out and say was they hadn't found a male or Enos and hash. It doesn't have to be a male organs. I thought you wanted your arguing.

15:15 And with that I said shall I come back on Monday? I said if I do mistress Bounty I am stay.

15:24 I did stay for how long well I was there about how many years Bill about 30 years 27. I believe I had I stayed there and I went for them, even when they left at BC and moved up and became the American Broadcasting Company up on on the west side. I think it now I'm sure the men and the orchestra pit didn't much care for having a skirt. Come in. How did you try to fit in and how did you cuz you're the only woman? Yeah. Well, what a what I did was to wear dark suit, I never dressed up in a dress and it rings and jewelry. I always just dressed like I was just be one of the boys which I've always said and as far as the boys were concerned I was okay, you know and we will belong to the 8:02 Union which was a very important thing and so I had their backing and

16:24 So I address for we could serve too conservatively and then dark clothes and then I did have a pass soon made by a special tailored and thought it was elegant paid a nice sum of money for only two received a call that morning after my true story to come down to the office and the guy said to be pro-life I go home take those pants off put a dress on and come back.

16:55 So I did was such a muddled time. You know, what was it? They really wanted but I I got through because fundamentally, I'm a fighter.

17:08 And when they play tricks on you old play all kinds of tricks on me because I was the only only female round and I had to be a good sport or I wasn't going to survive so well, they knew I would take it. So one day the day I had a blouse all that button in the back and I have busy with my two hands and they came unbuttoned the back, you know, and they gave me every I did that this they were going to take the thing off. They didn't say and then then the day they were going to strip me and take my stockings down. And of course at that time, I wore long dresses for Daddy. I didn't wear pants there, which I later Ted and it was reported that I had to pass and that was when I had to go home and take it off. They couldn't make up for nausea.

18:08 Wish I was going to be but they didn't call me anything but one of the boys in the orchestra, so if they had seven 7 or 6 to 7, we were 67 more hours and then over the garbage truck. So I guess we've come a long way. So I know you took care of the boys the day it was a Black Friday when the stock market crashed. Oh, yes there the day they called me. I was just skating and get it on your dresser and changing the phone rings and I go nonchalantly to the Rosa get out here fast and I jumped in a cab halfway dressed and guy got down there. I place was in pandemonium. So we had a couple two or three Spencer's at the NBC where weathered a timer for 3:00 in the morning or 1 before you didn't know that with that phone work.

19:08 And half the time I grab something and finish dressing and the taxi cab by the time I reach Radio City, but they were all great days. They were all great people and at that time I look back they love their work. It wasn't the money check. I never heard people Rave over the check at the end of the week or how much until forever so fun they had and we had her huge big family working at the air and received and we got along fine. There was competition of course between NBC and CBS and then wor over. So we had three big fails and be safe. Then the government made NBC split up and that's when we had WJZ because they began to be in Monopoly.

20:09 Now, I know you were the organist and you worked with Orson Welles on the shadow. How was that experience? And what was he like Orson Welles at that time when we started the shadow was a young man and when I say young he was thin a good-looking not the type of your later so that they show pictures today. He was handsome guy and everyone recognized his talent that He was so exceptionally talented they had great respect for him and there wasn't any act or any character that he couldn't take over and do in the meantime, he like to play tricks on people and he would do like for instance. He got all the air and dropped it but his script and it went all over the floor and every actor and actor was on the

21:09 Picking up the script trying to help him as a needle reaches in his pocket in his coat pocket. Out the reserves crip and goes right on doesn't miss a word. He was very talented too and that he could be Lamont Cranston and then could be the shadow knows you're safe and that it had to be too much because the shadow knows had to be what we call a filtered Mike that made that forest sounds so weird, LOL and it could only come so close because they would pick up and so he had to try to make that distance so fast with just answering himself and if you would he was remarkable cuz he could be Lamont Cranston and then he could be the shadow. I know and he's got to make that transaction. I just got to make those two mice. He was a genius.

22:07 We missed him when he went to Hollywood and he changed quite a bit but it is early days. He was considered the boy Genius around CBS and and the stations in New York. And about how many radio shows did you play for? And what were some of the top ones I probably played for 27 or 30 radio shows, but the mice true story was the breadwinner it brought in the biggest check. I paid for the Hammers for huge Edward McHugh. He was a Scotchman in from Scotland and he sang All of the wonderful old hymns that people like and he was quite a big star there. And one only one of the horses and myself were on his show the entire time.

23:07 And we had to cover this guy he made so many mistakes never admitted to one. We saved his hide minute times and had people for just thought he was just wonderful, you know, I especially when he sang the old hymns and so forth He Didn't Know music video what those were low notes and we had to cover him in everything but we produced a beautiful show every time and he got the honors and then we had a man so called him a mystery ship and he wore and never came in without his blind folders on you couldn't see his face. It was called the mystery Chef. He did all the cooking. So he talked about his beautiful wife and oh how beautiful she was a beautiful. So we said damn why don't you bring her inside?

24:07 We'd like to meet her and so the director of the show and the announcer in myself. Finally got him to bring her head one day brother. You should have stayed her. She was she did her own Hanner red-haired work. She did hold makeup and choices. She look like something scary from the sky. He would want to run the other where are sweet a woman. I never knew better than she was she wore at that time over $100,000 worth of jewels down to the station to be with her husband and nobody ever robbed her art acted iWave figured they were burglars looked at her and talk at you wouldn't be real.

25:02 A Bright Box nobody bother but we just figured anybody lose her and can't be just getting big but they they were they were childless couple me and they lived on Park Avenue and open their house or apartment rather. I Christmas and Thanksgiving to everybody at the working at ABC and they did all the cooking themselves for Bill rose that we went up there and we had just the most wonderful time. They were just great.

25:40 You know, I love your Eleanor Roosevelt story Eleanor Roosevelt was I think one of the highlights of my life a meeting her I was busy doing recordings for the boys across the sea. It was a wartime and we were sitting all kinds of shows across the stage to do a 2-hour boys too far a Peppa braces. Okay. So the only reason way we could do the shows would be at night because they wouldn't interfere with our regular shows so surely we had to follow by didn't get down around 7:30 and start the recorder 8 to 12 and so jumping off the elevator now running to the 8th floor while engineer saw me and he says Ho Rosa he said did you know that that the this is Eleanor Roosevelt is in Studio 8 a

26:40 No, no one is with her and he said on the list down there. She is an hour earlier because they have all the boys in uniform to meet her and to bring her on the elevator. Number one. Number two. She is supposed to have Secret Service watching her so she is all alone. So she's in there was just the spotlight. That's all on on the desk.

27:09 I thought oh, should I try. Yes. Should I wear should I. Well, this might be my only chance. I might regret it. I'll go throw that quick decision. I boot into a day I have dare. She was favoring a long long chain of pearls and, no doubt concentrated taking what she was going to do. And I said softly mrs. Roosevelt. May I come in and she turned so sweetly I said Yes dear do come in.

27:45 I I just mailed it if she if I ever if I should never said another word, I think I was spoon of butter right on the floor and I sat down and I had a few minutes to check with her and I said mrs. Roseville. I just hate to go what is time that I'm in the studio to record for the boys cross the sea with Ted Malone and she said yes dear. I understand you were school. That is a wonderful thing to do.

28:18 I just was floored by her. I wanted to tell you you didn't a bad one minute and she was the most beautiful woman in the world where you looked in her eyes.

28:31 Speaking of Roosevelt remember about a year ago. We were talking about several months ago. We were talking about the economy and I asked you about the depression and when the stock market crashed and then Social Security, I guess Roosevelt introduce social security and then all of the works progress administration projects and I had asked you how did you feel about the government taking money out of your paycheck for Social Security and a did you feel about the government? Well, we did we didn't like it that time because we really didn't trust her to go and we didn't like it taken from her or checks before we went up to the cashier to get it but I guess it was nothing we could do about it, but we didn't like it now after radio came out and television came in.

29:26 I know you were an accompanist with different singer. So talk about Mary Martin and Cole Porter. Yes. Well, of course marymar who was a southerner tool and she came from Texas and talkin with Mary and her publicity. She was a small kid when she had made her decision some day. She wanted to be on stage and come to New York and she was only sixteen when she ran off and got married and the family. I decided to go to heaven to know and for she was only 16. She came to New York and I became her company's and we went to Cole Porter's or late one night. It was all dark hair and she sang and where did five songs and mr. Poster, but she said Mr. Porter, I would love to

30:26 Sing for you buy prepared five numbers if I que se 05, then I don't care sing it all there was quiet. Nobody talks like that. Cole Porter. He said from his cot carry on.

30:45 And the next day she was at my heart belongs to Daddy.

30:51 I know we only have about 10 minutes left. I see well, I'll order it when I want to add one little thing. I thought we were short. I sat down to the piano and I and you know, it has three pedals on there. You know, like I soften and louder and neutral and so I'm fishing around nothing's there. I'm so when you play at 2 to phone on a piano you hit the note and by the time you get up to the card is dead silence, you know your Google I didn't powder your nose. Mystical Porter was laughing cuz he knew what I predict when I was in so he saw me but he was lying on the couch, but he just had that accident and so he laughed and he said Rose I've heard you play before so he said I was no I just want you to know that I admire you and I understand I will miss one thing that distance coming up, but he said that he laughed.

31:51 They don't joke about the pedal and so then married he said to Mary Martin carry on 8 oz of frozen. I got it. My heart belongs to Daddy.

32:09 Well, let's wrap up with you know, you started in the silent film era and now you're doing silent films regularly at Tampa theater, and and you look so joyous when you're on on stage in the audience loves you. What do you get? What is it that you enjoy most about playing silent films for large audiences? Well in the first place, I love doing it. So I get right into the picture and I feel a part of it. I don't feel at any time that I am a complicated and I should do this this scene is this I feel all I'm really in it from here and I just automatically express my acting through music and it just comes to me it spontaneously you see and I just enjoyed having a hedge enjoy having the art of doing that again that I did years ago that I cried and felt this

33:09 The Bitter End, when sound came in I cried like mad I thought that I will never ever ever get to do this art again and then we'll do you think here I am right at the Tampa doing what I had loved always do and I think it's a make-believe world musically.

33:32 And what what was it that you declared to your family when you were eight years old?

33:38 Something about I want to wear. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Well, I was forever putting on an act and my mother tried you're sure he'll she thought her failing was God and giving me a gift of music to play each other in church only and sore to be onstage. No say she had a brother that was a very good actor on stage and I visited them in Ohio and I smelled the aroma of stage work right then and I knew what I want to do and she tried to put a cootie on it, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And so I thought I had been ill and there was some doubt about my future because my bad health and I just got up and I will

34:38 Application I said I heard what you said. I'm not going to grow up to be a big a big actor or how artists and I'm going to work pretty close. I pretty makeup and a lots of jewelry. I can tell you. I've got the jewelry. It's all $0.10 jewelry maybe from the Ten Cent stores that time but I get all dressed up and I love it.

35:06 And how do you feel about women?

35:09 And women being powerful and and doing what they feel passionate about. Well, the the very fact that I started early in life and a man's world has made me be very aware of what is the future held for my sex. So I have never never let myself feel anything but positive that there isn't any shoe that will a woman can't wear I will say right here. Now, we will have a woman prayer Vice President. We will have a woman president and we're going places. Rome wasn't built in a day. I'll accept that but you can tell right now the look on my face. I may not be here, but there's going to be a woman and the high ranks of all USA.

36:05 Very shortly. There's no reason that has she can't she has excellent brains, excellent education and surf all much better closer relationship of human beings than a man has y'all KS anybody around here go to pull the hatchet on me, and I'm sure people want to know what do you attribute being a hundred and six never thinking about age? I never celebrate birthdays. I never brag about being in age and I just live very positive with things that are positive to do positive to be positive to be around and always looking forward to something something is going to happen. That's great. I have to have such a good help mentally physically and spiritually

37:05 If those three things are Bowser's in anyone's life, you got it. Just remember those three and so I don't I don't look for anything outside a big positive. I think there was a Vincent Peale was the first to write a book about positive thinking and I met him at NBC and I am on an elevator and I asked him if he were mr. Dr. Vincent Peale. He said he was and I said, I've read your book on being positive, but I've been positive all my life before I read your book. Yes, there's no stopping. You can be what you want to be there will think of anything else and it is never bothered me. I never looked to have trouble. I just looked up to win. And so I think we women are going up the ladder all the time every time I pick up.

38:05 Paper. I'm Wonder Woman taking this Step Up great for her.

38:17 Minutes left and if you can look at Aaron, you're answering you've lived a hundred and six years. So what's

38:25 The most surprising change that you've seen in your whole life. What is the most surprising change?

38:33 Well, you're caught me unaware about that because I've watched the world evolved, you know, and it didn't come faster to get it was gradually evolving and I think the first thing I saw that I was conscious of was the freedom that we were getting away from I didn't like when I was a little girl hearing. My mother said, well, you can play the piano open ever and no just for church and so forth, but you're going to grow up and get married and have children. I should I don't want to get married. I don't want to have children and I don't want to just play church music. I want to be on stage. I'll know know so I think it take the most positive thing that that women are stepping out of that prison that men have put us in and really the man appreciate.

39:33 You don't get it wrong. The man today don't want us to go back there. And they they I think they are more ready to share it and that's what I think is great. If we can share for tooth that is too late. Now. It's not going to hold them back at it. The woman has proved today. She can still be a mother and have children. She can still be a wife but that doesn't keep her being from Vice President of the United States are president of the USA and glory be that's coming.

40:11 Women getting the right to vote to spank.

40:14 Yeah women when did women get the right to vote? What year was that? I think that was 1921.

40:24 So I think that was 21 1925. Did you rush right out and and vote if I had a chance to vote I voted. Yes. Oh, yeah, and where you in any of the are you in any of the the protest or did you support the cause for women? Well, yes. I've been I've been in a probably some in my early life. Yeah sure and I want to hear if if I didn't get out to to talk. They had me to play the piano God Bless America or something. I was into something.

41:07 I don't think God bless America really was written at that time, but I just use the phrase but I think that in all of anything politically I protested for the rights of women and I think that that's the time that both my sister and I really got out was when Roosevelt was first off of President and I think that's the time that we really did get out on Pfeiffer Pfeiffer for him. And from there on it's been women and there's no reason why we can't be balanced.

41:52 Wonderful Del Rosa and closing. How would you like to be remembered? I never thought of that how I would like to be remembered. I don't well in the first place and never occurred to me because I never thought I didn't say any differently from anybody else. Sometimes I wish that I had contributed more. I might have fought for women's rights in the certain way. There's no doubt about that that but I haven't really done anything special but well, I might have pushed a couple of guys out of a job at ABC. Maybe I roll my eyes and I played a better but I can't look back on my life. And with that is any regrets whatsoever.

42:52 But they anyway I might have opened the door to have helped some women if I have I'm glad

43:01 LaRosa my life is better for knowing you and Bill and thank you for opening the doors for me. And all of the Saucy jokes. You told me all these years. Thank you. I love you very much. Thank you very much for having me. You're very charming and you're very interested and you're very lovable and you're very bright like a man.