By Michelle Merriman
Primary Creator: Fox, Virgil (1912-1980)
Extent: 4.5 Cubic Feet. More info below.
Arrangement: The collection is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically by folder title, with exceptions made for materials that require separate housing (oversized, ephemera, etc.).
Date Acquired: 09/20/2013
The collection includes materials dated from approximately 1938-2008. The bulk of the collection is dated between 1938-1980 and is comprised of performance and souvenir programs from Fox's recitals and concerts at churches and concert halls across the U.S. and internationally. Several of these programs include Virgil Fox's handwritten performance notes. Other printed materials include program proposals, promotional materials, biographies, calendars, newsletters, Virgil Fox's Master Organ Class documents, as well as articles and photographs from newspapers and magazines. Items dated after 1980 include programs from Fox's former students and affiliates.
The collection also includes studio portraits, snapshots, and performance photographs of Virgil Fox. Photographic images are in black and white and color. There are also some photographs of family members and friends. Additionally, there are 35mm slides that contain images of Virgil Fox's international travels and performances, as well as glass slides which contain lyrics for sing-alongs. Fox's collection also includes a five-part video recording of Fox's Heavy Organ performance with David Snyder's "Revelation Lights." Finally, this collection contains three-dimensional awards and memorabilia acquired by Fox throughout his career.
Virgil Keel Fox was born on May 3, 1912 in Princeton, IL. From a young age, Fox showed exceptional musical talent. At the age of ten, he began playing organ for church services. By the age of seventeen he became the first organist to win the Biennial Contest of the National Federation of Music Clubs in Boston. From 1926 to 1930, Fox studied organ in Chicago with Wilhelm Middelschulte, an organist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In addition to studying organ with Middelschulte, his other principal teachers included Hugh Price, Louis Robert, and Marcel Dupré. Additionally, Fox was a scholarship student of Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore. There, he earned the highest honor - the Artist’s Diploma. In 1936, Fox returned to Peabody to become the head of the organ department. During this time, he also served as organist for Brown Memorial Church. Later, in 1942, Fox joined the Army Air Force and performed recitals to raise money for the armed services. After performing over 600 recitals on duty, he was discharged in 1946.
In 1946, Fox was selected to become the organist of New York City's Riverside Church, where he remained for 19 years. Fox also became a member of and featured organist for the American Guild Organists in the same year. He played at national conventions at the White House and was chosen by the State Department to represent the United States at the First International Conference of Sacred Music in Bern, Switzerland. His hymn accompaniments at Riverside's Sunday services and concert performances were widely acclaimed.
Throughout his career, Virgil Fox gave recitals on practically every important organ in the world. Notably, he was the first non-German artist to perform the works of J. S. Bach at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig; he played the first paid recital on the Kilgen organ in Carnegie Hall, New York; and he inaugurated the Rodgers Carnegie Hall organ, which he had designed, in 1974. In 1977, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his concert debut, he played to sold-out concerts at Kennedy Center and in Tokyo, Japan at NHK Hall.
In 1970, accompanied by a light show, Fox played an all-Bach program at New York’s Fillmore East. For nine years, Fox’s “Heavy Organ” toured across the country. He is credited with introducing young people to Bach in an innovating and exciting way. Virgil Fox’s final performance was the opening concert of the Dallas Symphony’s season, which took place on September 26, 1980. After four years of battling cancer, he passed away on October 25, 1980. Funeral services were held at his home in Palm Beach, Florida and at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. A memorial service was also held at Riverside Church in New York.
Access Restrictions: The collection is open for research use.
Use Restrictions: Any use of archival materials outside of the scope of education and/or research must be approved by the AOIAL staff and may be subject to copyright law.
Acquisition Source: Virgil Fox Society
Acquisition Method: Donation
Preferred Citation: Virgil Fox Papers. American Theatre Organ Collections at the American Organ Institute Archives and Library, University of Oklahoma.
Processing Information: Several duplicate programs were weeded from the collection.