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Squeezebox Stories: Vince Cirelli, accordion repairman

Accordion repairwoman Skyler Fell with her mentor Vince Cirelli.

Back in the early part of the 20th century, San Francisco’s North Beach was a Mecca of accordion building (and playing) in the United States. And the accordion is San Francisco’s official city instrument.

Vince Cirelli was an Italian American accordion repairman in his 90s, and Skyler Fell, a woman in her early 30s, worked as his apprentice. Tattooed, pierced, and part of the “steam punk,” DIY, Burning Man scenes, Fell now owns her own accordion repair shop in San Francisco, where she says an “Accordion Revolution” is happening among people of all ages.

This is a story about the history of Italian immigration to California, which gave rise to San Francisco becoming the center of accordion manufacturing in the U.S. – about the new generation of accordion enthusiasts, many of whom are women, who are helping to bring the accordion back out of the closet; and about how the passion Cirelli and Fell share in their work to tend to the beauty and complexity of the instrument bridges generations.

Vince Cirelli passed away in 2012. His story was produced as part of Squeezebox Stories – a musical and cultural history of the accordion. The documentary just won first place for arts and culture reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists. Special additional thanks to Tom Torriglia, Rob Reich, and the San Francisco Accordion Club for their help with this story.