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Remembering Organist Warren York

Story date: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 from Illinois Public Media News

Warren York was a plumber by trade, but audiences in Champaign knew him as a self-taught musician. For nearly 20 years, York entertained audiences at the city’s Virginia Theater. After restoring the Wurlitzer in the old vaudeville house, he played in between movies at Roger Ebert’s annual film festival, and during other events. 

In a 2006 interview with WILL, York talked about his efforts to care for the organ. 

“In some instances, when you’ve got a pretty good sized organ, it may take a year or so to rebuild it,” York said. “But this one (the Virginia’s) we like to keep in their (audiences) ears a little bit.”

Longtime Virginia theater manager Leonard Doyle says the man’s talents never ceased to amaze him. 

“The notes and everything were in his head,” Doyle said. “He played with no music, and somebody would ask him to play a piece of some sort, and he knew it.  But he was a tremendous organist, and Warren is going to be very much missed in the community.”

A series of health problems forced York to quit playing the organ in 2009. He passed away Monday morning at the Illiana Health Care system in Danville. York was 73. Graveside services are Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Clements Cemetery in Urbana. 

There’s already an effort underway to honor Warren York, benefiting the ongoing restoration of the organ. Donations may be made to the Warren York restoration fund at the Champaign Park District.

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Warren York featured on the WILL program 'Sidetrack' in June 2001:

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arts and culturemusicgovernmentChampaignpeople
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