Artist Spotlight: Virgil Fox
65 Stories of 65 Years
Artist Spotlight: Virgil Fox
Virgil Fox (1912-1980), acclaimed by many music critics as America’s greatest organ virtuoso, was known for his extensive concertizing and recordings, and his many years as organist at New York’s Riverside Church. Dr. Fox had a strong association with Rodgers Instruments. He played hundreds of concerts on various Rodgers organs, some that he personally designed, including the famous Carnegie Hall five-manual organ, his concert touring Rodgers organs “The Royal V,” and “Black Beauty.”
On October 1, 1974, Fox debuted the Rodgers’ five manual Carnegie Hall organ in a sold-out concert. This was the world’s first five manual and most powerful electronic organ at the time and was listed as such for a number of years in the Guinness Book of World Records. The organ and Fox were praised by Time Magazine, United Press International, The New York Daily News, The New York Post, and by noted critic Harold Schonberg in The New York Times. Carnegie Hall’s International Organ Series for the Inaugural 1974-1975 Season included Fox, as well as other world-renowned concert organists Pierre Cochereau, Claire Coci, Fernando Germani, Herman Berlinski, George Thalben-Ball and Richard Morris.
The twin to the Carnegie Hall organ, Royal V, was Virgil Fox’s touring organ for many sold-out performances in the USA. It was played at Fox's funeral in the Crystal Cathedral (Garden Grove, California) on October 25, 1980. The Royal V was, in 1983, refinished from black to white and permanently installed in the Meishusama Hall of the Shinji Shumeikai in Minsono, Japan. In mid-2004, this same organ was updated to newer Rodgers technology. Rodgers consultants on the project revised and updated the organ's tonal specification to Parallel Digital Imaging technology. More information and photos of it is available at this link: The Iconic Rodgers Royal V Organ at Shinji Shumeikai in Japan - Rodgers (rodgersinstruments.com)
Virgil Fox also helped bring Rodgers organs into the limelight in the late 1960s and early 1970s when he concertized extensively on his personally designed three-manual Rodgers Touring Organ, built in 1966 and known as “Black Beauty.” This famous organ was featured in Fox’s “Heavy Organ” concerts, including a 1970 all-Bach performance that included a light show at the Fillmore East Auditorium in New York City.
The concert flyer includes this text: Virgil Fox, the Rodgers Touring Organ, a rear-projection light show, and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach: HEAVY ORGAN – a sound and light spectacular. Launched in 1970 at New York’s Citadel of Rock – the Fillmore East – HEAVY ORGAN has made music history ever since. Thundering ovations, sold-out houses, return engagements, and three best-selling albums document the phenomenon.
“Black Beauty” was based on Rodgers’ then premium three manual model, the “American Classic.” Famous concert organists who played on this instrument or “Black Beauty” included Ted Alan Worth, Joyce Jones, Pierre Cochereau, Herman Berlinski, Richard Morris, Keith Chapman, Douglas Marshall, John Grady, Frederick Geoghan, and Diane Bish.
“Black Beauty” also had several TV appearances, including the “Mike Douglas Show” featuring Virgil Fox and the famous pianist Liberace.
A Rodgers video tribute to Dr. Fox appears on YouTube at this link: https://youtube.com/watch?v=iMllu-sEjyo&si=EnSIkaIECMiOmarE
Several additional YouTube videos show Dr. Fox performing on Rodgers organs.