Andrew Dys

York County ‘piano man’ dies at 94

Billy Joel sang about the musical “Piano Man.”

W.B. Harris of York was the real thing.

Harris, 94, who died Thursday, spent much of his life doing a job almost unheard of today and fairly rare in any era – piano tuner.

“There wasn’t anybody else I remember growing up whose father had that job, piano tuner,” said Bob Harris of Fort Mill, one of W.B. Harris’ sons.

But for more than three decades at Marshall Piano Co. in Rock Hill – a business that remains alive and well today – Harris was the piano tuner for pianos all over South Carolina and North Carolina.

“Mr. Harris was here for a long long time,” said co-owner Wylie Marshall. “Some might remember it seeming like forever.”

Before working as a tuner, Harris started as a collector in an era when Marshall’s sold furniture, too, and people would pay a dollar or two a week “on time” for their furniture and maybe a piano. Harris would drive around and tune pianos and collect the dollar or two for the sofa in a time when people played and listened and a handshake was a man’s word and the only contract was the honor of people.

Later, after retiring – kind of – Harris worked for himself out of the back shop at his York home, not just tuning pianos but fixing them, and rebuilding pianos from older models that people would find in barns and garages and sheds.

Harris, a cotton “mill hill” kid, understood the value of a beautiful sound. He served under Gen. George Patton in the fury of World War II, and like so many young guys was thrilled to come home alive. Harris knew the value of a good thing that lasts, be it a piano or a union: He and his wife Mary, still living, were married for 74 years.

So W.B. Harris didn’t just tune pianos and fix pianos – he played piano.

Never had a lesson, either.

“He learned and played by ear,” his son said.

At the memorial service at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bratton Funeral Home in Harris’ hometown of York, music will be played.

Guess what kind.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065