For First Time, Steinway Baby Grand Piano from the Historic SS United States Now on Public Display at Steinway Hall in New York
Piano from America’s Flagship Once Played by Duke Ellington and Other Renowned Musicians Was Recently Acquired by SS United States Conservancy
The ship’s famous Steinway & Sons piano in the SS United States’ first class ballroom, with legendary jazz bandleader Duke Ellington seated at the keys and Broadway star Ethel Merman at the microphone.
NEW YORK, NY (January 29, 2020) – The Grand Ballroom of the SS United States, which once played host to presidents and celebrities of the 1950s and 60s, was filled nightly with the sounds of a custom Steinway. Recently acquired by the SS United States Conservancy, the historic baby grand piano specially designed for America’s Flagship will be available for public display for the first time at Steinway Hall in Manhattan starting February 1.
The new Steinway Hall opened in 2016 at 1133 Avenue of the Americas in Midtown Manhattan.
The United States’ baby grand isn’t only famous for the bandleaders and entertainers, including Duke Ellington, who once played it. Its design and materials were once at the center of an unusual and contentious dispute during the outfitting of the world’s fastest ocean liner. In order to make the ship completely fireproof, the United States’ designer, William Francis Gibbs, demanded that there would be no wood on board the vessel. He famously asked Theodore Steinway to craft pianos in aluminum. After Steinway vehemently refused, an argument ensued resulting in Steinway, the company president, dousing a piano in kerosene and igniting it. His stunt demonstrated the fire-resistant qualities of mahogany, proving his pianos wouldn’t be a threat to the ship’s safety. Gibbs finally relented.
“Now thousands of people will be able to see this legendary piano, which, like America’s Flagship, is an amazing feat of American design and craftsmanship,” said Susan Gibbs, President of the SS United States Conservancy, the nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the historic ocean liner and advancing her redevelopment. “We are very appreciative of Steinway & Sons for providing such a wonderful home for this historic piano while our plans for a museum and the ship’s revitalization are advanced. We are also grateful to Conservancy board members Mark Perry and Robert Forbes, whose generosity enabled us to add this extraordinary artifact to our collections.”
The SS United States’ piano has been in safekeeping at Steinway’s factory since its acquisition by the Conservancy, along with a number of other historic pianos. Those include one of the first Steinways ever produced, a Steinway Square Grand, circa 1855, and one of Steinway’s olivepainted “Victory Verticals,” upright pianos that were parachuted into combat zones during WWII to help lift troop morale.
“We are honored to partner with the SS United States Conservancy and to take care of this historic Steinway piano while they plan their museum and redevelopment of the SS United States,” said Anthony Gilroy, Sr. Director of Marketing for Steinway & Sons. “The piano made a stop at our Astoria, New York factory where it was originally built. After visiting its birthplace almost 70 years ago, it was delivered to Steinway Hall in New York City—where it will be available for viewing during the month of February.”
The piano was initially purchased off the ship after the vessel was withdrawn from seagoing service and cared for by collectors Michael Persico and Bob Scofield for more than thirty years before it was acquired by the Conservancy.
Steinway Hall is open to the public Monday through Friday 9am to 6pm, Saturdays, 9am to 5pm and Sundays 12pm to 5pm.
ABOUT THE SS UNITED STATES CONSERVANCY
A national nonprofit organization, the SS United States Conservancy leads the global effort to save and repurpose America’s Flagship, the SS United States. The Conservancy raises public awareness and financial resources for the maintenance, restoration, and ultimate reuse of this iconic vessel and works to ensure that the fastest ocean liner ever to cross the Atlantic remains an inspiration for generations to come. For more information about the SS United States Conservancy and America's Flagship, visit www.ssusc.org or the Conservancy’s Facebook page.
ABOUT STEINWAY & SONS
Since 1853, Steinway pianos have set an uncompromising standard for sound, touch, beauty, and investment value. Because of a dedication to continuous improvement, today’s Steinway remains the choice of 9 out of 10 concert artists, and it is the preferred piano of countless musicians, professional and amateur, throughout the world. For more information, visit www.steinway.com.