Tom Bopp

(text-only bio)

Musician/Historian Tom Bopp has entertained and educated Yosemite’s guests at the Wawona Hotel and The Ahwahnee since 1983. His interest in Yosemite’s cultural history led him to develop interpretive events for the Yosemite National Park Centennial in 1990, the Camp Curry Centennial in 1999, The Ahwahnee 75th Anniversary (2002), Yosemite Heritage Holidays (2003-2009), regular programs on Wawona history, Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir's 1903 camping trip to Yosemite, Yosemite music and culture, and a film documentary called Vintage Songs of Yosemite.
Born in southern California (1957) and raised in Torrance, Tom was introduced to the keyboard in 1961 when his dad brought home a fifty-dollar upright piano. After his mother taught him how to play "Heart and Soul", Tom became unstoppable in his tireless by-ear renderings of popular tunes such as Georgie Girl, Summertime, and Linus and Lucy.
Having endured several years of this, Tom's parents persuaded him to start piano lessons at age 11. Laura Lee Lukas, Tom’s teacher for the next 10 years, had studied with Edward Kilenyi, Louis Kentnor, and Wager Swayne. The latter had been a pupil of the great pedagogue, Theodor Leschitizsky, who had studied with Czerny, who had studied with Beethoven. Tom is proud of this heritage, but is careful not to make any claims by it. Additionally, Tom learned to play the trombone in the public schools, and in junior college pursued the study of his weakest subject, music theory, going so far as to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA in theory and composition.
After settling into a career as a piano technician (tuning and rebuilding), Tom received an irresistible offer to play piano at a soon-to-open novelty restaurant called JoAnn’s Chili Bordello (their motto: "17 Varieties of Chili Served in an Atmosphere of Sin"), in November of 1982. In the spring of 1983, Tom was invited to play for just one week at the Wawona Hotel; it was extended to a second week, during which he was invited to stay on as full-time musician. He’s been there ever since.
Tom’s repertoire is an eclectic but by no means comprehensive mélange, representing his shifting tastes in music, or as he puts it, a short attention-span.
While he is apt to perform anything from Celtic folk music to what might be called jazz, Tom generally tries to coordinate his offerings with the feeling of the room, but somehow usually manages to segue into popular music from the first 50 years of the 20th century.
Whether he’s performing cabaret songs, antique salon music, cowboy ditties, leftovers from long-ago classical piano lessons, Depression-era tunes, or ragtime, spontaneity is the thing Tom likes best. He is prone to banter about local history during performances, and even offers picture-shows on the subject.
Tom and his wife, artist Diane Detrick Bopp, are headquarted on California's central coast. Tom's principal pastime is historical research and writing; his first book was published in July, 2023 - Yosemite Stage Driver: The Life and Times of George Monroe and His Family, and he is currently working on a history of Wawona.
In January, 2006 Tom was one of seven out of some 40,000 worldwide employees to receive Delaware North Corporation's Legacy Award of Service Excellence.
On December 17, 2008, Tom was awarded the annual Yosemite Fund Award (now Yosemite Conservancy) "in recognition of the significant effort he has made to enhance the value of Yosemite National Park as a national treasure."
Tom entertained at a private home gathering for Vice President and Mrs. Dick Cheney in 2006, and opened for President Barack Obama for his public address in Yosemite in 2016.
Tom’s eclectic tastes are represented on five CDs, occasionally available on the internet at His first movie, "Vintage Songs Of Yosemite - The DVD" is based on his multi-media performances by the same title, presenting the first century of the Yosemite Experience through vintage music, stories, art, photography, and the only complete iteration of the Fire Fall on film. Tom continues to perform at the Wawona Hotel (see SCHEDULE), but no longer performs winters at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel (after 35 seasons there).