Remo Belli dies at 88; musician developed synthetic drumheads
Frustrated by the limitations of animal-skin drumheads, Remo Belli and his collaborators perfected and began marketing one of the first artificial drumheads.
(Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Remo Belli, a musician who pioneered the synthetic drumhead just in time to help a generation of rock-and-rollers shape their sound and then saw it become standard on kits across genres, has died.
Belli, who founded Remo Inc., was 88 and had been treated for pneumonia at a Pasadena hospital, where he died April 25, said Sue Kincade, the company's advertising manager.
Belli was a young professional drummer in the 1950s, backing singer Anita O'Day and others, when he grew frustrated with the limitations of animal-skin drumheads, which could wilt or expand depending on the weather.
In 1957, he and his collaborators perfected and began marketing one of the first artificial drumheads made of a resilient polyester film manufactured under various brand names, including Mylar, made by DuPont. He dubbed that first product the Weather King, a signal that it was durable no matter the atmospheric conditions of the gig, unlike finicky cow-skin drums.
A few years later, a 20-inch Remo drumhead was seen on Ringo Starr's Ludwig kit when the Beatles played on the "Ed Sullivan Show." Rockers quickly caught on and eventually even jazz purists began embracing synthetic heads, which are now standard on kits of drummers in all genres.
Belli's modest Los Angeles store, Drum City, grew into Remo Inc., now located in Valencia.
Belli and his wife, Ami, a doctor, worked with neurologists and educators to incorporate rhythm into wellness regimens. He promoted drum circles and was convinced that drumming could reduce stress, improve moods, boost creativity and even strengthen immune systems.
Remo Delmo Belli was born in Mishawaka, Ind., near South Bend, on June 22, 1927. As a child, he loved listening to his uncle's polka band. His father urged him to learn the accordion, but he chose the drums instead. He began playing professionally in jazz bands at age 16, while still in high school.
Last year the Remo drumhead used by Starr on "Ed Sullivan" sold at auction for $2.1 million.
Weber is a writer for the Associated Press.