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Inventor of the Electric Piano Dies at 89

Harold Burroughs Rhodes, the inventor of the

electric piano used by countless jazz and rock musicians, died December 17 of complications from pneumonia. He was 89.

Rhodes’ piano design experience began during World War II when he developed a piano designed for teaching injured soldiers confined to bed. In the mid-fifties, Rhodes partnered with guitar and amplifier maker Leo Fender to create a 32-note piano bass. Because of design disagreements, they never produced Rhodes’ concept for an electric piano. When CBS bought the Fender company in 1965, Rhodes was finally permitted to produce and market the Fender Rhodes electric piano.

A favorite of artists such as Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Chick Corea, the instrument is considered critical in the evolution of jazz-rock in the 1970s. It produced a new sound that would change jazz as artists began to explore the electric and electronic sound.

Originally Published