Ernst Katz

Dr. Ernst Katz, a Malibu resident since 1955, died of natural causes Aug. 11 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 95 years old.

Katz, who was a concert pianist and musical prodigy, decided when he was in his twenties to give back to his community with the gift given to him-music.

In 1937 he founded what he originally called the Little Symphony, which evolved into the Los Angeles Jr. Philharmonic. What started with four members grew into a 120-person orchestra for more than seven decades under his leadership. More than 60,000 musicians, ages 12 through 25, participated in annual auditions and more than 10,000 were selected for membership for free. Katz himself would donate funds to buy tuxedos for performances and instruments for those who could not afford them.

His motto was “give youth a chance to be heard.”

Katz was born in Detroit on April 14, 1914, and moved to Los Angeles with his Russian immigrant parents in 1922. His father had founded the Golden Hat and Cap Co., which made fedoras, cowboy and other types of hats for Hollywood celebrities. Katz had taken over his father’s business and served as president for many years, however, music was always his passion. His parents had bought him a piano at the age of 12, and he toured nationally as a concert pianist.

During the Depression era, he taught piano to economically challenged youth to give them hope. Soon he was conducting the Little Symphony at concert halls such as Shrine Auditorium and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

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Katz was the recipient of Los Angeles’ Key to the City, the Award of Honor from the County of Los Angeles, commendations from countless cities, governors of California, the Congress and presidents of the United States. In a White House ceremony on Dec. 13, 2002, President George W. Bush presented Maestro Katz with the President’s Community Volunteer Award for more than six and a half decades of service to young people.

Katz led his orchestra into the 72nd season by giving them the downbeat at its first rehearsal last fall. He received a standing ovation at the orchestra’s 72nd Anniversary at Walt Disney Concert Hall on June 3. His nephew, Gary S. Greene, now conducts his orchestra.

About his lifelong work, Katz had once said: “Music transcends everything. It builds hope where hope doesn’t exist. It’s absolutely miraculous what music has done for my young people. There’s nobody else except my immediate family and my country that I love more than the orchestra.”

His sister, Silvia Greene; his nephews, Gary and Terry Greene; his niece, Lori Gordon; and his great-nieces, Debra Marisa Greene and Victoria and Natalie Gordon, survive Katz.

In lieu of flowers, any donations in his memory may be made to the Friends of the Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra Fund held by the California Community Foundation and mailed to the Jr. Philharmo nic Orchestra, 157 South Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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