Yesterday we were sad to learn of the loss of Ernie McLean, the legendary guitar player who performed at Disneyland park for more than 30 years. Known for his warm smile and amazing jazz guitar, Ernie was an original member of the Royal Street Bachelors – now a guest favorite in New Orleans Square.
“Ernie was the last of his breed here at Disneyland,” remembered Stan Freese, Disneyland Resort talent booking director and friend of Ernie’s. “He was a blues and rock legend. He was a kind, classy gentleman who never spoke badly about anyone or anything. He loved his job, and we all loved him. His presence will be sorely missed.”
The best person to tell Ernie’s story is Ernie himself. Below is a recent interview with the man Disneyland guests would often see sitting on a wooden stool just outside Pirates of the Caribbean, playing jazz tunes on his guitar.
Did you have a musical family?
My father taught me how to play the guitar. I started playing at the age of 11, but don’t ask me what I was playing back then because I couldn’t tell you. My father had a job playing in a government concert band in New Orleans. They told him the banjo player needed to double on guitar. When he started to learn the guitar he taught me too.
Did you continue your musical training after high school?
After high school, my father said, “Look you’re not gonna be running around like you’re crazy, this is World War II.” So I joined the Navy. When I auditioned for their band, they put music in front of me to audition and I messed it up something terrible. Then they told me I did okay. They taught me everything I needed to know about music. I played for four-and-a-half years in the Navy.
What did you do after your military service?
After I got out of the service, I decided I wanted to continue playing music for a living. When I played with Dave Bartholomew things really took off. We recorded with Fats Domino, Nancy Wilson, Little Richard, Sonny and Cher, and even did Chrysler commercials.
How did you end up working at the Disneyland Resort?
I auditioned as a guitar player for a tour. I didn’t think I was going to get the job. Then they started to talk about rehearsals and going to the studio, so I stopped them and said, “You haven’t offered me the job,” and they replied, “Why do you think we are telling you this if you didn’t get the job?” Once the tour ended, [Walt] Disney eventually called me to sub for the banjo player at Disneyland. That is when I became permanent at Disneyland.
We will miss Ernie and the joy that his talent brought to millions of guests in one of the most unique locations in any Disney park.
so sad, I’ve seen him play at the Park. 🙁 He’ll still be playing in that fancy park in the sky..
I love the fact that you guys remember your Disney family, it makes it even more special when going to Disneyland. It makes it feel like your going to someones home.
My condolences to his family and fellow cast members.. He will be sorely missed. We always enjoyed stopping and listening to him play his guitar when we visited.
I remember being at Disneyland for my birthday & wearing my birthday button. I was sitting on a bench in New Orleans Square, waiting for the rest of my party. Ernie saw me sitting there, and segued into a jazz rendition of Happy Birthday. He will be missed — he made quite the impression on me, and countless others.
So sorry to hear that. I have been fortunate enough to talk with him a few times and enjoyed his playing. He was a real talent. I heard that he had performed at Disneyland since 1966 and that he was 87 years old. Ernie will be missed.
RIP, Ernie. We’ll miss your wonderful guitar at Disneyland, but know that you’re now playing for Walt and Lillian in that big Theme Park in the sky.
RIP, I’ve had many conversations with these gentlemen, love them! I even wrote about them in my book about what a pleasure they are to help find peaceful moments and places in DL. It is our loss.
I only had the privilege of seeing Ernie once, but I’d heard stories about him before and since. He sounded like a remarkable man, and a remarkable Cast Member. I’m sure he will be missed, and my sympathies go out to his friends and family.
I sincerely hope Disneyland is planning a tribute to him. In my opinion, nothing would be more fit than for Ernie to be memorialized with a Window in New Orleans Square (much like Fess Parker was given a Window in Frontierland).
I was so sadden to hear this today. I still remember stumbling upon Ernie while resting on a bench in New Orleans Square. That fifteen minutes I sat there people watching I was in awe of his talent. I’ve been reading up on his life today and happy to say that I got to witness a legend. There may be a empty spot that he once played but his wonderful music will still live on. Thank you Ernie!
This makes me sad. I enjoyed listening to him play while working in New Orleans Square. He was the highlight of my day.
I’m so sad to hear about Ernie passing. I literally saw the post and said, “Noooooo!” I’ve been looking for him the past couple of years and was disappointed to see that his cabinet that held his amplifier was no longer there. He was a great guitar player, I’m glad I got to see him in action. You can look him up online for videos of him playing, it’s a great way to remember him.
So sad to hear this news!
Much love to Ernie’s family & fellow cast members.
Ernie you will be missed.
Well, I know Ernie is at peace… My husband Robert & I are both professional musicians. when we came upon Ernie years ago, we enjoyed listening to his wonderful renditions of standards as well as his great improvisation. (I even made sure I bought his cd) Not only did he stand/sit on the walkway near the Cour du Angeles, he also would climb upstairs in the Blue Bayou Restaurant & sit on the balcony making sweet music while we ate there for hours!! It was a touch of Heaven & we always looked for him when in New Orleans Square. One time he told us he was real sore. I asked what happened. He said, “I fell out of bed & hit my shoulder.” I asked if he needed an Alleve. He said ‘Yes’, so I gave him one & checked back later. He was feeling much better… He remembered us on subsequent visits. He will be missed yet I have no doubts that Ernie is making GREAT music for God & still chatting with Walt in Heaven! Our condolences to Ernie’s Family! 🙂
The last cast member personally hired by Walt Disney. A sad day. I’ll miss sitting on that bench listening to him play.
Thank you, Ernie….you are the part of the memories of my family and so many others.
We have several videos of Ernie. My husband is a guitar player and always loved to stop and hear him play.
I hope that his family takes comfort in his legacy of joy.
Sad to hear. Ernie was a New Orleans Square staple, I will definitely miss his unique sound next time I’m at the park.
So sad! I always made it a point to stop by and say hi to Ernie! If you get a chance to go to Club 33 there is a paintng of Ernie as you go up the stairs.
Love the Royal St. Bachelors. Sipping a mint julep and listening to them play is the best rest spot at Disneyland.
What a sad day for Disneyland. Sending happy thoughts to his family and friends.
Did Ernie ever play inside the Blue Bayou as well?
Thanks for sharing with us his story. He brought much joy and will be missed.
A sad day for sure. As a musician I will miss his talent and skills. As a frequent park visitor I was already missing him in New Orleans Square. This just makes it a reality that we will never hear such a wonderful example of a player, but also we will never have the extraordinary example of the top notch, classy person that he was, there to great us. Theanks for the memories Ernie!