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Ralph Deutsch – Early Life

Clearly I have no first-hand knowledge of this phase of my father’s life! Some things can actually be verified, however. Ralph Deutsch was definitely born in 1919 in Winthrop, Massachusetts. Winthrop is a suburb of Boston and my father usually described himself as Bostonian. He definitely had a strong Bostonian accent. His parents were Nathan and Bella Deutsch. Ralph was the youngest of three children. The oldest child was his brother George. His sister, Beatrice, was the middle child.

Earliest known photo of Ralph Deutsch

I know very little about my father’s early life with his family in Winthrop. He used to tell me about riding the narrow gauge railroad to the amusement park at Revere Beach. There are plenty of articles written about Revere Beach. The railroad must have been the Boston, Revere Beach, and Lynn. It operated well before his birth and ceased operations in 1940.

My father became an avid model railroader later in life and he used to cite these childhood train trips as the source.

Crescent Beach Station on the BRB&L circa 1910 – from Wikipedia

My father used to sneak out of his orthodox Jewish home to hear free organ concerts in local churches. I did not learn this story until the day of his funeral. He had told a friend of mine during a brass quintet performance at a synagogue about 25 years ago while I was busy at the organ!

The other story I know about his early relationship with the organ is one he told me himself. He told me on several occasions that his family used to go into downtown Boston to a big movie theater. They would see a double feature, a newsreel, some cartoons, and have a sing-along – all with the theater organ providing the music. Of course, he would always add that this cost only ten cents! Much later, when I was 12, he actually introduced me to the very organist who played at this theater. It was Lloyd Del Castillo.

My grandfather, Nathan Deutsch, was a plumber. This was a very unusual occupation for a Jew at the time. He also owned a hardware store.

I also know that my father attended and completed a degree at the New England Conservatory of Music while living in the Boston area. The campus remains in the same location it was then – a block away from historic Symphony Hall. I have walked through the campus on one of my trips to Boston.

His instrument was the trumpet. I have no idea why he did not also study the organ at this time since the Conservatory also offered organ instruction. Perhaps his parents did not allow it.

He has told me that he also studied mathematics at Boston University (BU) – which is in the same neighborhood. I do not believe he received a degree from BU. He moved from Boston to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1937, and, as his short biography from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) states he received his B.S. from the University of Michigan in 1941.

My father worked all sorts of odd jobs to pay for his education. His parents contributed nothing. He was always considered a black sheep since he wanted to pursue mathematics and science rather than go into the family hardware business.

He worked as a film developer among other things. A funny story he had told me (and others) concerned his first exposure (pun is intended) to African Americans. He had never seen an African American at this time. One day he was enlarging pictures to make prints and was not able to get some facial exposures to look correct no matter what he did. Someone else in the shop told him the faces were supposed to be black!

My father played trumpet in the UM marching band and also played for commencement ceremonies. The latter was a paid position. William Revelli, the famous marching and concert bandleader, came to UM in 1935. My father often said he joined band the second Revelli ran it – which would have made him 17 years old at the time. This seems reasonable.

My father said Revelli’s reputation as a severe taskmaster was well deserved – but also that he got along well with him. At the first rehearsal each year, if a student played a wrong note, Revelli would take his horn and play it back correctly – regardless of the kind of horn. According to my father, Revelli could only do this for certain songs, so it was a well-rehearsed demonstration!