A self-taught harmonica player, he gained worldwide recognition as the musician who brought the instrument to the ‘serious music’ stage.
He began playing early and won the Maryland Harmonica Championship at the age of 13. After attending Baltimore City College (1926-1928), his musical career began in 1928 in New York when he was given a job by Rudy Vallee to play at the Heigh-Ho Club.
He became the harmonica player at Paramount Theater in 1928, then at the Streamline Revue Palace Theater, London, in 1934. In 1939 he joined the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as a soloist. During World War II, from 1943-45, he went on USO tours with the dancer Paul Draper; the pair joined together again after the war to tour worldwide. He performed in Germany in 1947 and 1949, in Korea in 1951, and in Israel in 1967 and 1973. He appeared at the Edinburgh Festival, Scotland, in 1963 and 1965. In 1989 he played at the London Promenade Concert at the Albert Hall with the Wren Orchestra and John Ogdon. During his career he also played with the Chicago Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Detroit Symphony and the BBC Symphony, and has had music composed for him by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold and Darius Milhaud.
On April 11, 1938 Larry Adler married Eileen Walser with whom he had three children: Carole, Peter and Wendy, before they divorced in 1959. He was married again in 1967 to Sally Cline and had a daughter, Katelyn, a marriage that lasted 9 years until a divorce in 1976.
In 1949 Larry Adler was blacklisted in the U.S. for having alleged procommunist leanings and later emigrated to Great Britain. During the investigations by the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities into communism in the entertainment industry, he and Paul Draper were accused by Hester McCullough of being communist sympathizers. In 1950, Larry Adler and Paul Draper brought a libel suit against Mrs. Hester McCullough for $200,000. The case concluded when the jury could not reach a verdict. Adler and Draper claimed the jury’s inability to support Mrs. McCullough’s accusations was a sign of support. However, the effect of the accusation was long-standing and both Larry Adler and Paul Draper lost concert bookings which seriously threatened their careers in America. Adler has since claimed that his career has never regained its momentum in the U.S.
During his career he wrote several film scores: “Genevieve” 1953 (for which he received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Film Score in 1954), “King and Country” 1963, “High Wind in Jamaica” 1964, “The Singing Marine,” “St. Martin’s Lane,” “Sidewalks of London,” “The Big Broadcast of 1937,” and “The Great Chase,” as well as appearing in “Many Happy Returns,” “Music for Millions,” and “Three Daring Daughters.” His television credits include “The Monte Carlo Show” and “Midnight Men.”
He has published sound recordings “Larry Adler Live at the Ballroom” on Newport Classic and “Larry Adler Plays Works for Harmonica and Orchestra” on the RCA label.
He has also released several written publications: How I Play (1937), Larry Adler’s Own Arrangements (1960), Jokes and How to Tell Them (1963), and his autobiography It Ain’t Necessarily So (1985). He wrote as a food critic for Harper’s Queen and Portrait and Boardroom and also published several columns in Punch, Spectator, New Statesman, New Society, Sunday Times, Observer, and Mail on Sunday.
Most recently he wrote the soundtrack to the 1992 film “My Life.”
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