Though he may be gone, the influence of the quintessential Las Vegas headliner act that is Liberace is unwavering.
Best known for playing a jewel-encrusted piano in front of a candelabra while wearing a flamboyant cape, Liberace was the most over-the-top musician of the 20th century. His music, which combined pop and classical piano, revived the flagging classical music scene. He single-handedly transformed a genre that many considered stuffy and antiquated into something contemporary and ultra glamorous.
He was a true superstar.
The self-described Mr. Showmanship was easily identified by his outlandish outfits, blinged-out pianos, and poppy spin. He was all spectacle — amazing costumes, fun gimmicks, big smiles, and showy techniques — and an exceptional pianist to boot. Purists of the time scoffed, but Liberace's cheerful technique introduced classical piano music to a generation who may never have encountered it otherwise.
It was "classical music with the boring parts left out," according to Liberace.
As a teenager, Władziu Valentino Liberace played under the easier-to-remember stage name of Walter Busterkeys before making it big. He was born in West Allis and spent his early years touring this area, playing at local clubs and venues. Imagine seeing young Liberace in the 1930s!
After he grew in popularity, Liberace moved to Las Vegas, where he was a popular headliner act for an impressive 40 year tenure.
Liberace loved his Baldwin pianos. Every surface, except the clear lid, is completely coated in Austrian crystals.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to view some of the artist's most famous pianos at the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas.
The Liberace Museum opened in 1979 and included the majority of Liberace's magnificent costumes, jeweled pianos, collectible cars, and other flamboyant memorabilia. The explosion of rhinestones featured 18 pianos, including one that had been played by Chopin himself.
Sadly, the museum closed in 2010. The collection has since been auctioned off, reused, and distributed to collectors who keep it safe. The Liberace Garage is home to his many cars; and Thriller Villa, Michael Jackson's former Las Vegas residence, houses mountains of costumes and exquisite pianos.
But the collection is far from dissolved.
Everything Liberace touched remains a pop icon to this day. He lives on, inspiring a whole new generation to embrace the spectacle of classical piano music.
Classically trained and flamboyant pianist, Chloe Flower, played Liberace's iconic rhinestone piano with Cardi B at the Grammys in 2019. See Chloe Flower play the crystal piano while Cardi B embodies that over-the-top Vegas flair with a rap twist in the video here.
Liberace was such a genre-bending icon that it's unlikely Ms. Flower will be "the next Liberace," but it's a joy to see his legacy upheld today. I look forward to seeing his outrageous collection enjoyed by the next generation of pianists.