Virgil Keel Fox

Virgil Keel Fox

American organist
Date of Birth: 03.05.1912
Country: USA

  1. Biography of Virgil Fox
  2. Early Education and Influences
  3. International Recognition and World War II
  4. Career and "Heavy Organ" Tours
  5. Controversy and Legacy

Biography of Virgil Fox

Virgil Fox was an American organist who gained recognition for his outstanding performances and his efforts to popularize classical music. He was born in 1912 in Princeton, Illinois. As a child prodigy, Fox began playing the organ during church services at the age of 10. At 14, he gave his first concert in front of a large audience of students in Cincinnati.

Early Education and Influences

From 1926 to 1930, Fox studied in Chicago under the renowned organist Wilhelm Middelschulte. He later attended the Peabody Conservatory for one year, where he studied under Marcel Dupré, among others. Fox's talent and dedication to his craft led to him becoming the organist of a Presbyterian church in Baltimore in 1936. Around the same time, he also began teaching at the Peabody Conservatory.

International Recognition and World War II

In 1938, Fox embarked on a tour of Britain and Germany, where he became the first non-German performer to give a concert on the organ of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. This historic performance took place two centuries after Johann Sebastian Bach had worked at the same instrument. However, with the onset of World War II, Fox resigned from his position as a church organist and started giving concerts for servicemen. By 1946, he had performed approximately 600 shows.

Career and "Heavy Organ" Tours

After his military service, Fox became the titular organist of the famous Riverside Church in New York City, a position he held until 1965. He then focused entirely on his concert career. From 1970 to 1975, Fox gained significant popularity through his "Heavy Organ" tours, during which he performed academic repertoire on a portable electronic organ in concert halls typically reserved for pop and rock music. His first concert in this series, featuring the works of Bach, took place at the renowned Fillmore East venue on December 1, 1970.

Controversy and Legacy

Throughout his career, Fox faced criticism from purists, especially supporters of historical performance practice, for his stylistic choices. He defended his approach, aimed at popularizing classical music among audiences who were not typically drawn to it, by dismissing his detractors as untalented individuals who needed to hide behind their adherence to tradition. Despite the controversy, Fox's performances were well-received by many.

Virgil Fox continued to perform until shortly before his death from prostate cancer in 1980. His legacy lives on through the re-release of his recordings from the 1950s and 1960s on CD and the memorial concert held at Riverside Church on the 20th anniversary of his passing, which attracted around 1,500 attendees. A collection of reminiscences about Fox, published in 2002, explores his homosexuality and its impact on his life with admirable candor.