Passion for piano spurred a Knoxville man to save one of the cit

Passion for piano spurred a Knoxville man to save one of the city's iconic theatres

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Bill Snyder has been the warm-up act for movies and live performances at the theater for decades. Bill Snyder has been the warm-up act for movies and live performances at the theater for decades.
Snyder served as fundraising chair,  securing $28 million to restore the theater to its original 1928 grandeur. Snyder served as fundraising chair, securing $28 million to restore the theater to its original 1928 grandeur.
" I remember I pushed the button and the console started rising and I asked myself, what have I gotten myself into," he said, laughing about the first time he played the Wurlitzer. " I remember I pushed the button and the console started rising and I asked myself, what have I gotten myself into," he said, laughing about the first time he played the Wurlitzer.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Mention the Tennessee Theater's mighty Wurlitzer organ and only one name comes to mind. That name is Dr. Bill Snyder.

He's been the warm-up act for movies and live performances at the theater for decades.

But that is just one part of Snyder's importance to the Tennessee. 

Back in 2003, when the theater was very close to demolition, he served as fundraising chair,  securing $28 million to restore the theater to its original 1928 grandeur when it was one of the great movie houses of the South.

And while many of those old movie houses are now gone, the Tennessee survived because in restoring the theater, they also included an improved stage and dressing rooms.

"The ones that have been able to survive are the ones that have been converted to primarily a live performance facility. And that's what happened at the Tennessee," Snyder said.

At 81, Snyder has time to devote to the Tennessee Theater, but for much of his life he was an educator and administrator, serving as chancellor at UT Knoxville.

But he always had a love of music, starting piano lessons in the third grade. And unlike other boys his age, Snyder says he loved it.

"I took to it like a duck to water and really enjoyed it. And I got interested in organ in high school and started taking organ lessons and started playing in churches because I never thought I'd ever have an opportunity to play down here," he said.

But, of course, he did get that opportunity.

Bill's love affair with the Tennessee Theater actually began more than 30 years ago. It happened the first time he sat down and played the Mighty Wurlitzer.

"I remember it very well because for one thing it was my birthday, October 18, 1979. And I remember I pushed the button and the console started rising and I asked myself, what have I gotten myself into," he said, laughing.

What he'd gotten himself into, it turned out, was a lifetime of great memories - both for himself and for anyone who's enjoyed the theater in the 34 years.

Recently, the East Tennessee Historical Society awarded Bill the Award of Excellence in Lifetime Achievement, acknowledging Bill's dedication in "preserving one of Knoxville's most iconic buildings."

Bill Snyder - an example of the Spirit of East Tennessee.


If you know someone who you believe is an example of the Spirit of East Tennessee, e-mail me at gpatterson@wate.com.

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