Life Member. Piano
3/28/1937 – 7/3/2023
Lincoln Mayorga, the consummate musician as well as founder of Townhall Records and co-founder of Sheffield Lab and the Mastering Lab, has died. The concert pianist, arranger, composer, conductor, producer, and audiophile innovator was equally comfortable performing classical music on international stages and arranging and playing with popular artists in diverse venues — pop, jazz, classical, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Gramophone magazine said, “The eminent pianist and teacher, Karl Ulrich Schnabel, claimed few pianists could play classical and non-classical styles equally well, with one exception: the wonderfully named Lincoln Mayorga.” Mayorga had studied with Schnabel, and his broad virtuosity showed up early with the friends he made in his school years in Los Angeles.
“I know of no one more warm-hearted, more joyful, and more spectacularly gifted in so many ways as Lincoln was,” wrote Arnold Steinhardt, of the Guarneri String Quartet, upon hearing the news. “Lincoln Mayorga and I first met in junior high school orchestra when we were 12 years old, and have remained close friends and valued musical colleagues since then.”
Bruce Belland met Mayorga at Hollywood High, where they formed the Four Preps, the “first boy band.” Belland calls Mayorga an “extraordinary man” and credits him with the gold-record success of the Four Preps. “Over 13 years – every note we sang was his creation and together the five of us shared countless adventures on tour, in Studio A, at the Capitol Tower… ”
Over his lifetime, Mayorga arranged music for diverse artists and often accompanied them, including Barbra Streisand, Frank Zappa, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler, Johnny Mathis, Mel Torme, Andy Williams, Vicki Carr, Marni Nixon, and Amanda McBroom. He collaborated with renowned classical musicians including Itzhak Perlman, Michael Tilson Thomas, Gerard Schwarz, Richard Stoltzman, Arnold Steinhardt and others.
Mayorga identified foreign artists, like classical pianist Sofia Cosma, and helped them with U.S. concerts and recordings. In Cosma’s case, Mayorga even produced a film of her life, “A Suitcase of Chocolate.”
Mayorga and Ed Cobb of the Four Preps formed a rock n roll instrumental studio group, the Piltdown Men, and their “Brontosaurus Stomp” made the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. Mayorga and Cobb also arranged and produced the first recordings of singer Ketty Lester.
Mayorga arranged and played piano for Ketty Lester for the song Love Letters, which was high in the charts in 1962.
By 1966, Mayorga was the first staff pianist at Disney Studios, where he contributed for more than 15 years. His playing can be heard on the soundtracks of the movies “Chinatown,” “The Competition,” “Ragtime,” “Ordinary People” and “The Rose.” He composed and played for many popular television shows including “Fame,” “Bonanza,” “Highway to Heaven,” “Little House on the Prairie” and “Dallas.”
Belland said, “And of course, Lincoln made recording history with his audio innovations and pioneering studio techniques. In high school I dreamt of making a hit record so I could buy a new Corvette. Lincoln dreamt of perfecting direct to disc recording introducing fidelity and clarity never offered on disc before. And he did it – rounding Sheffield Records and bringing unprecedented quality to the recording process.”
Over the decades, with his partner Doug Sax and their Mastering Lab, and Sheffield Lab, Mayorga set new standards and produced a rich, high-fidelity catalog of diverse recorded music still available.
Mayorga also engaged music to try to bring Cold War enemies closer to peace. In 1986, he led a team to the USSR to make the first recordings Americans had made there in 25 years. The Sheffield Lab three-album set with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, “The Moscow Sessions,” was widely and positively covered by media and made the Billboard classical charts.
After the recording sessions, the “musical summit” added a concert, with help from the American Embassy. Producer Lisa Sonne ensured the event was filmed, including an impromptu jam session when one of the Russian musicians asked Mayorga to play some American jazz (generally forbidden in the USSR). A resulting concert documentary, “Maestros in Moscow” with host Gregory Peck, was sent to the cosmonauts and astronauts on the MIR Space Station with notes from Peck and then-VP Al Gore.
Mayorga was asked to return to Moscow in 1988, this time not as producer, but as the star performer on the renowned Tchaikovsky Hall stage, premiering Gershwin works for a live concert and an album, “Rhapsody in Russia.” He loved Gershwin and recorded other Gershwin albums in the U.S., as well as taking the music on the road to reach over 250 towns and cities.
For many years Mayorga toured the United States doing community concerts for Columbia Artists, talking to the audiences about his selections from Tin Pan Alley to Chopin’s preludes, and often some Brahms. He was also known to ask for a telephone number from the audience, assign notes to the numbers and improvise a new piece live.
As a composer, one of his favorite pieces was his “Angel’s Flight,” a piano concerto inspired by both the music of cinema and the steep Angel’s Flight funicular, that wowed him as a boy in downtown Los Angeles. He performed it with the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra.
Mayorga recorded some ragtime albums with Lou Busch under the pseudonyms Al “Spider” Dugan and Brooke Pemberton. But he mostly liked being called Dad.
Mayorga leaves behind four children, Teresa Mayorga, Rachel Mayorga, Nicholas Mayorga, and Juan Carlos Mayorga, and two grandchildren Catherine and PJ.
A celebration of Lincoln Mayorga’s life will be held August 19 at 2 p.m. at the Mount Cross Lutheran Church, in Camarillo, California. Mayorga enjoyed performing in that venue because of its acoustics and setting.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in his name to the ACLU or a favorite charity. His daughters also suggest, “To celebrate his memory, please play music, dance a silly dance, and live life with conviction.”
Memories of Mayorga’s influence can be read and posted at tinyurl.com/LincolnMayorga. There are also many links there to hear the music and humor of this proud Union session musician and wonderful human being.
Rachel Mayorga, daughter: 707-755-0095 email@example.com
Teresa Mayorga, daughter: 707-289-4226 (landline) firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Sonne, longtime friend, producer of USSR recordings and video: 818-917-7137