Emile Pandolfi took up the piano at the age of five and has never looked back. Born in New York, Pandolfi moved to Greenville as a child in 1956 and graduated from Greenville High. After high school he studied music at Furman University, then Baylor, and finally Texas Tech, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in music.
Despite studying classical music, Pandfolfi’s search for humor and flexibility in his performances led him to popular music, specifically show tunes, which in his words “contain meaningful lyrics and lend themselves to interesting arrangement.” After college, Pandolfi spent two years playing piano in the pubs and restaurants of Sussex, England, then, following the same star that has beckoned so many musicians, to Los Angeles and the Sunset Strip, where he became one of the house pianists at the Comedy Store. It was during this time that Pandolfi rubbed shoulders with comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, and Robin Williams, studying their performances and learning the art of comedic timing and improvisation. But it was serious business when he was asked to be one of four pianists to record Rhapsody in Blue for the 1984 Summer Olympics’ opening ceremony and to perform live at the event along with 83 other pianists.
In the late ’80s, Pandolfi moved back home to Greenville and began work on his debut album By Request, which was released in 1991 and has sold more than 600,000 copies. To date, Pandolfi has recorded more than 30 albums with combined sales of $3 million.
On Christmas Day 2011, Pandolfi’s Greenville residence caught fire and burned to the ground. Pandolfi was not home at the time of the fire, but family members who were escaped by breaking an upstairs window, climbing onto the roof and descending to ground using a neighbor’s ladder. The fire destroyed the home and everything in it, including two family pets. Greenville’s charitable spirit kicked into gear almost immediately, as the community donated clothing, food, and temporary housing. Pandolfi was so moved by the outpouring of generosity, he wrote a heartfelt letter to the firefighters, Red Cross, and community thanking them for their work and support. In May of 2012, the Peace Center held a benefit concert for the Pandolfi family, Pandolfi and Friends: A House Is Not a Home.
Despite the loss, Pandolfi has said the house and its contents “were only things,” and he has not let the event stop his love of music or desire to perform. He continues to play shows and write music and, according to legions of fans, is one of the modern masters of the piano. Virginia Uldrick, Emile’s high school music teacher and the founder of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities once noted, “He can do anything. He’s the master of the keyboard.”