Remembering Bill Charles

(Charles W. Habermaas)

Chicago Area Organist


Bill Charles at his residence Robert Morton organ
Bill Charles at the basement hybrid 2/8 Robert Morton. The Morton console was originally in a lodge hall in a Berwyn but the Morton organ, itself, was a 4 rank organ from the Linden Theatre in Chicago. Some Barton and WurliTzer additions increased the organ to 8 ranks. Organ was not quite finished as indicated by tablets with black tape to cover incorrect stop information 
Bill Charles was a native of St. Louis, Mo. and was a serious piano and organ student. His early interest in music was encouraged by his uncle August Halter, a renowned church and classical organist. During his early years silent films and the theatre pipe organ was in its hey day and by his late teen years he had the dream to find a position at one of the movie house organs. He took a job as an usher at the Ambassador Theatre in St. Louis and studied with the house organist. During the early hours when the cleaning crews were working he would spend hours practicing on the Ambassador's fine 4/23 WurliTzer organ. Before he could progress further than playing an occasional short feature, the talkies appeared and organ jobs started disappearing immediately. His dream died along with the appearance of the talkies and coupled with the depression that soon followed, he had to find other work to support himself. He eventually relocated to the Chicago area and after the second world war started teaching piano, organ and voice. He had to sustain his musical asperations with the piano, until the Hammond organ became popular in the late forties and early fifties. He played Hammond in lounges and supper clubs for many years and played programs for the local theatre organ group CATOE at the Senate Theatre Kimball organ among other venues. He was also a church organist during this time. Through his theatre organ contacts he was able to gain access to the Roseland State Moller (3/12), the Marbro WurliTzer (5/21), the Senate Kimball (3/18 ) to play theatre organ. After many years of playing electronic organs he finally found a home at a pipe organ as the last organist at the Lansing Roller Rink (3/10) Barton organ in Lansing, Illinois. He had a Robert Morton hybrid organ in his Chicago home and shared his organ and love of theatre organ with many of the other local theatre organists. He spent his final years in Fennville, Michigan. After moving to Fennville he became a 32 degree Mason and was the organist in his lodge. He Organized the "Bill Charles Combo' dixieland band which played at many Shriner events.

Bill and Doris

Bill's wife Doris was also talented musically and sang along with the organ at programs for CATOE. Members still talk about the time that Doris rode up on the Kimball console at the old Senate Theatre singing with the organ to open a program at a CATOE Social.
Bill & Doris at Robert Morton organ
Bill & Doris (shown above and below) hosting a CATOE SOCIAL on the basement Morton during the early sixties.
Bill and Doris serve up refreshments at CATOE SOCIAL


Robert Morton organ in Fennville Michigan
Organ moved upstairs after the move to Fennville, Michigan. To be able to utilize the organ, 4 ranks of pipes were temporarily located in the listening room while attic chambers were being prepared. The organ for a short time appeared to approximate the 2/4 organ that originally came from Chicago's southside Linden Theatre 

Return to CATOE Chicago area organists page