VIRGIL FOX, American organist died (b. 1912); A renowned organist, known especially for his flamboyant “Heavy Organ” concerts of the music of Bach. These groundbreaking events appealed to audiences in the 1970s who were more familiar with rock and roll music, and were staged complete with light shows. In 1946, the Riverside Church in Manhattan hired a “partnership” (term used in The Church Monthly) of Organist Virgil Fox and Choir Director Richard Weagly who were a Gay couple openly living together. Fox’s many recordings made on the RCA Victor and Capitol labels, mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, have been re-mastered and re-released on CD in recent years. They continue to be widely available in mainstream music stores.
In his long and brilliant career, Virgil Fox gave recitals on practically every important organ in the world. He inaugurated the Rodgers Carnegie Hall organ in 1974, which he had designed. In 1977, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his concert debut, he played a sold-out concert (“The Bach Gamut”) at Kennedy Center and in Tokyo, Japan at NHK Hall; and performed the Joseph Jongen Symphonie Concertante with the NHK Symphony.
Perhaps the most daring concert Virgil Fox ever played was at the Mecca of rock music, New York’s Fillmore East, where, in 1970, he gave an all-Bach program combined with a light show on the Rodgers Touring Organ. Virgil Fox is credited with bringing the music of Bach to young people with an innovative and exciting style, although he often drew adverse criticism from some of his colleagues in the organ world and from those music critics who found his approach too flamboyant.
Fox, who affected a beret and a crimson-lined black cape, and drove around in a pink Cadillac convertible, didn’t care what anybody thought about who he was. “How good to see you, Lawrence, Honey,” one of his students, Ted Alan Worth, recalled hearing him address a Riverside Church dignitary from the organ console after a Sunday service. The reply was shocked: “I’m not your honey, and kindly never address me that way again.” But as Worth noted in a memoir, to Fox everyone was Honey.
“To anyone who was gay, there was no question as to what Virgil was,” Worth wrote, and Fox made no bones about being gay. “He was quite proud of what he was, and never once did he feel the slightest bit second class.”