Role models of greatness.
Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
In addition to having prodigious talent and technique, Fox was an outrageous showman who alienated purists right and left – and he loved every minute of it. Virgil wore a red satin lined cape and a beret while performing, and he drove a pink Cadillac. The heels of his organ shoes were embellished with rhinestones. He insisted on being visible to his audiences (tough, if not impossible in most churches back in those days). He was also temperamental and demanding – organ tuners dreaded working for him.
Virgil Fox was the Liberace of the pipe organ, and the comparison is apt, because both were attacked for having lurid taste – in clothes, repertoire, personal flamboyance and performance practice. Fox was in-your-face gay and didn’t care who knew it, and his over-the-top, camp personal style was often at odds with the staid church where he performed. It was his practice to speak to the audience from the stage, discussing the music and thus bringing a new dimension to recitals. All that said, few people were neutral about Virgil Fox. You either loved him or hated him. His arch rival was English-born E. Power Biggs, a conservative historically correct performer who was the antithesis of Fox’s personal and musical style. Both were known for their performances of music by J.S. Bach, yet their interpretations were light years apart.
Virgil then took the pipe organ outside the church, going on countless tours with an electronic organ he called Black Beauty, playing recitals in concert halls, schools and on television, replete with light shows, smoke machines and mirrors. No lie. His shows at the Fillmore East, a NYC rock concert venue, were legendary. It was not uncommon for 2,000-3,000 people to show up for his live performances, and often hundreds were turned away. I kid you not.
Fox loved his audiences and would spend hours greeting his fans after every performance. He called everyone “honey” – men and women alike – and loved giving autographs. While seated at the organ console he once greeted a staid Riverside Church dignitary, “How good to see you, Lawrence, honey." The shocked and offended man replied, “I'm not your honey, and kindly never address me that way again.” Fox was not the least bit intimidated.
Fox spent his last months at his estate in Palm Beach, FL, Casa Lagomar, where he died of prostate cancer in October, 1980. He was 68 years old. Virgil had performed in public just six weeks before his death, and the New York Times obituary estimated that he had performed before more than six million fans during his 50-year career.
Perpetuum Mobile for Pedals Alone (Middelschulte): the video quality is crap, but this gives an accurate representation of Virgil’s technical mastery and flamboyant style. The composer, a brilliant German organist who lived most of his life in Chicago, was Virgil’s teacher. Fox frequently played this show-stopper as an encore.
Toccata (final mvt.) from Symphonie Concertante by Belgian composer Joseph Jongen. The last 40 seconds of this clip are thrilling. Fox often performed his own organ solo transcription of this movement at recitals.
A one-man symphony orchestra, Fox was known for his transcriptions of symphonic music for solo organ. Here he performers Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 on the huge Wanamaker organ inside Philadelphia’s downtown Macy’s department store.