Leon has been a local legend in Sandpoint, Idaho as long as I have been alive. My first impression of Leon was at Catholic mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on 6th and Church St. downtown Sandpoint. Sometimes on certain holidays he would play guitar behind the altar that would fill the church with delightful classical standards that would carry to the back of the hall. We always sat on the side pews and were so close to where he was playing I was able to see his fingers move on the strings. This was likely the first finger style guitar music I saw in person.
Leon contacted my brother and I after we started Tonedevil Guitars about building him a nylon string classical harp guitar. With reluctance we accepted having only built steel stringed guitars up to that point. With his input and ear we were able to come up with a successful design that has now become one of our best selling instruments.
A Little History About Leon
Folk-Blues Guitarist Josh White first inspired Leon. At age three Leon’s father took him to the Apollo Theater in New York City. A Light went on in Leon and still shines bright today. Leon’s love for the Guitar has guided his path through life.
At eight he began to study the guitar at the Henry Street Settlement on the lower east side in New York. His first teacher was Mark Oalth, who taught him folk guitar. Later that year Leon won the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts, and got to perform with the world famous McGuire Sisters.
Albert Valdes Blain from Cuba, taught Leon Classical Guitar from age 12-18. Leon attended the High School of Performing Arts (the Television show Fame was modeled after this High School.) Leon met and performed with Langston Hughes the famous poet. Still in the High School of Performing Arts, he performed 4-5 nights a week in Greenwich Village in coffee houses. Leon’s passion for the Guitar led him to Maestro Andres Segovia in Spain. The first time that he played for the Maestro, Segovia said, “It is easy to see that you love what you do Muy Bonita.”
Upon returning from Spain, Leon became Chairperson of the Guitar Department at Jersey City State College, and taught Classical Guitar in the extension division of Manhattan School of Music. Leon Atkinson Guitarist had his Debut at Town Hall New York City 1974. The following year he played Carnegie Hall. Leon also played Broadway Shows: Promises Promises, See Saw, Hurry Harry, and A Chorus Line. He was solo Guitarist with the Alvin Ailey Ballet, performed in the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Mass Ballet on stage and on record.
After moving out west, Leon started the Classical Guitar Guild. He has performed with the Spokane Symphony, he started Guitar Departments at Whitworth College, Spokane Falls Community College and North Idaho College. He presently heads the Guitar Department at Gonzaga University.
Leon travels the world doing Concerts and Master Classes. The Lightand his Love for Guitar, stills shines bright.
Currently Leon is the host of NPR’s “The Guitar Hour” running for over 26 years as one of the most popular shows on the station. He brings in international artists such as Paul Galbraith, David Tanenbaum, Mak Grgic, and Martha Masters and promotes their concerts through is non-profit series “Friends of the Guitar Hour.” It features live concerts with the artists, and in depth detail critiques of their CDs and works ranging from early baroque to the contemporary.