A Day In Wrigley Field History: April 26, 1941

Courtesy Mike Bojanowski

On this day, the Cubs' ballpark unveiled a major-league first.

Saturday, April 26, 1941 was a perfectly ordinary day at Wrigley Field. The Cubs lost to the Cardinals 6-2; it was a pleasant, sunny day with seasonable temperatures in the mid-60s.

Just 8,499 showed up for the contest, as the Cubs had been declining the previous two seasons, but those who did attend that weekend date were treated to a baseball first: music from a pipe organ, played live by Ray Nelson. Yes, Wrigley Field was the first to have a live organist provide musical entertainment.

The Tribune, in a brief article without a writer's name attached headlined "So Far That Organ Plays Only A Dirge" published two days later, wrote of this event:

Ray Nelson, who on Saturday unveiled his pipe organ behind the grandstand screen at Wrigley field, was at his keyboard again yesterday, playing a concert to the delight of the 18,678 fans who arrived before 2:30 o'clock.

Mr. Nelson was obliged to still his bellows at 2:30 because his repertoire includes many restricted ASCAP arias, which would have been picked up by radio microphones hooked up half an hour before game time. 

The organist, it is promised, will sort his album before the Cubs return home on May 13 and will be ready to peal BMI selections exclusively. Also in prospect is a Cubs theme song entitled, "When The Midnight Choo Choo Leaves For T-U-L-S-A."

Those who can think of a better title for a theme song are requested to send their selections to General Manager James T. Gallagher, Wrigley field, Chicago. Also any little number you'd like to have rippled off some afternoon, fitting the aria to the baseball score at the time, of course.

A bit of explanation is required, if you are not familiar with broadcast music rights. ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) were, and are to this day, organizations that protect the rights of people who make music and collect royalties on their behalf when those songs are played on radio (and later, television and other media). It seems clear that the Cubs had rights to play BMI songs, but not ASCAP songs, and if they could be heard on the radio broadcast, even in the background, the Cubs would have had to pay extra. (Additional note: the Tribune article quoted above says the organist's name was "Ray Nelson". Stuart Shea's "Wrigley Field: The Unauthorized Biography" says it's "Roy Nelson". I have not been able to find any other source to tell me which one is right. If any of you know, post the info and a cite.)

The organ music proved extremely popular, and the Cubs, as you know, still have a live organist to this day, even as other teams have gone to strictly pre-recorded music. Gary Pressy has been the Cubs' organist since 1987; I like the organ music as well as the pre-recorded music and hope they keep a live organist around for many years to come.

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