A Tribute To Larry Adler


Larry Adler and Hohner

Hohner’s early advertisements for harmonica’s “Don’t be a loner, get a Hohner” describes the beginning of life long relationship between Larry Adler, the greatest harmonica player in the world, and Hohner. At the age of 13, Mr. Adler entered a harmonica contest sponsored by the Baltimore Sun and was awarded a silver cup as first prize. Having been thrown out of multiple schools and with a passion for the harmonica, Mr. Adler ran away to New York in 1928 to audition with Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals a top vaudeville act at the time. Unfortunately, Minevitch told him he stank, but undeterred Adler stopped by the Paramount Theater where Rudy Vallee gave him a chance and so the story begins of a talented and motivated man and an instrument of inspiration, the Hohner harmonica.

In 1934, Adler held his first appearance in London. By 1935, Hohner had introduced two Larry Adler chromatic models for international sale. Adler’s music had driven Hohner’s sale of harmonicas to England to increase by two thousand percent in a single year. Larry Adler’s worldwide influence on the popularity of chromatic harmonica playing sold millions of Hohner harmonicas and inspired generations of players. During the 1940’s the Larry Adler model chromatic harmonica was the largest selling instrument in the world and the team of Adler and Paul Draper became one of the highest paid concert attractions in America. It was Adler’s amazing gift with the instrument and in promoting his music, his friendships, and his collaboration with Hohner that propelled him to become the greatest.

As for Larry Adler’s friendships, his letters to Hohner and his statements in the media illustrate his mastery of talking about himself, revering his many high profile friends, and making you feel like you are just as important in the conversation. In one letter to Hohner’s Marketing director, he writes, “Now I am organizing an 80th birthday album. George Martin will produce. Sting and Elton John have volunteered to appear on it. I only want artists I know personally. How’s your singing voice?” In a casual name dropping contest with Walter Cronkite, Adler mentions that Charlie Chaplin called him in Beverly Hills and asked him to come and make up a foursome for tennis, Bill Tilden’s dropped out. So Adler arrived and Chaplin motions for me to get on the court. Not long thereafter, Adler learned that the woman badly dressed for tennis was Greta Garbo and the man with the weird mustache was Salvadore Dali.

Larry Adler’s sole goal in playing the harmonica was to develop a “singing tone.” “If you can get a singing tone in your playing, that’s as far as you can go. Miles Davis does it on the trumpet; Johnny Hodges did it on the saxophone. That’s what I loved about Rachmaninoff when I heard him play the piano when I was a kid in Baltimore” “Years ago I played Sophisticated Lady with Duke Ellington and his band at the club. Billie Holiday was there and afterwards Duke introduced me to her at the table. She said, “You don’t play that thing, Man, you sing it.” “Now I cannot think of a better epitaph than that.”

The Hohner Company is extremely proud to have had such a lifelong relationship with Mr. Larry Adler. He made our mouth organs sing and he became the pied piper of his generation.

Clayman B. Edwards
Matth. Hohner AG.

Celebrating Larry Adler's Centenary

Legendary performer, Larry Adler (Lawrence Cecil Adler), was born on the 10th February 1914 in Baltimore USA. He was widely acknowledged as one of the world's most skilled harmonica players. Composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold, Darius Milhaud and Arthur Benjamin composed works for him. George and Ira Gershwin were two of his closest friends.

During the later stage of his career he was known for his collaborations on The Glory of Gershwin, a CD produced by Sir George Martin in celebration of Larry’s 80th birthday. Many popular musicians took part including: Sting, Sir Elton John, Kate Bush, and Jon Bon Jovi.

Quote from Sir George Martin: “Of course Larry was a compulsive name-dropper but he really did know the greatest of people and for me it was wonderful to work with such a legend”.

Larry gave the harmonica a place on the concert platform for the first time, his name being synonymous with the instrument. Having run away from home at 13, he rose to stardom on the stage and in film. Larry became one of the biggest names in the United States until accused of Communist leanings by Joseph McCarthy (on a list including many other famous names) and this caused him to be blacklisted and unable to continue working in the country. Fortunately, he was made welcome in Britain which became his new home and from where he was able to perform all over the world, eventually returning for occasional visits to his homeland.

In millennium year, Larry Adler was included on a list of 100 most famous people of the past century.

Quotes from Sting:

“… having reached some level of luminosity myself, I felt confident enough to place a call with Larry's management and ask him to help me out on a song I had just composed. The song was called ‘Shape of My Heart’ and I wanted the sound of a chromatic harmonica to grace its middle section. Why not contact the best in the business; the name synonymous with the mastery of that difficult and demanding instrument, Larry Adler himself”.

“… Larry had agreed to perform at Carnegie Hall for The Rainforest Foundation’s benefit concert, with a full orchestra, playing Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. An almost unbelievable feat, except I was there in the wings, open mouthed like the rest of the audience”.

There is no question that Larry Adler had a lasting influence on music and instrumentalists. Many Hohner harmonicas carry the name, Larry Adler Professional and he did more for this instrument than any other player in history.

In celebration of his extraordinary life, photographer Gary Italiaander, who was a personal friend, will soon release a book called ‘Reflections’ – A Tribute to Larry Adler. It will include previously unseen portraits as well as many memories shared by his partner Gloria Leighton, his family, friends and luminaries. These include: Sir George Martin, Sting, Sir Michael Parkinson, Itzhak Perlman and more.

There will also soon be the release of a superb CD, unlike any other recording he ever made - a live performance recorded during his 1997 Australian tour.

For more information about the book and the CD, please contact:


Gary Italiaander - E: info@italiaander.co.uk