Some Sad News

I’m saddened to report the passing of David Randolph. He was 95 years old.

Mr. Randolph was a renowned conductor and choral director, a fixture in the New York music scene for decades. He was known for hosting a weekly classical music program on WNYC, for teaching music at several local universities, and for a critically praised book, This Is Music. However, he’s best known as the conductor of the secular St. Cecilia Chorus, which he had led since 1965 (!). He was also an outspoken freethinker and atheist who, ironically, also held the record for the most lifetime performances of Handel’s Messiah.

I first heard of David Randolph when I heard Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor interview him on Freethought Radio in 2007. Despite his advanced age (he was 92 at the time), he had a deep, resonant voice that still seemed full of life and vigor. The interview intrigued me, and I made it a point soon after to get tickets to one of his performances at Carnegie Hall, and I’m very happy I did. I went back several times and saw him conduct one of his famous Messiahs, as well as Verdi’s Requiem, which I wrote about in 2008.

I had the privilege of meeting him in person in 2009, at a luncheon held by the FFRF in New York City in his honor. (That’s also where I met my esteemed co-author Sarah Braasch, so you can thank David Randolph for her posting here!) When I saw him up close, I was a bit surprised. I hadn’t been expecting a small, stooped old man, with owlish eyes and wispy tufts of gray hair – but that deep and powerful conductor’s voice was the same as ever. I offered to shake hands with him, but he politely explained that at his age, he was too concerned about catching colds. He bumped elbows with me instead. He ultimately passed away from complications from pneumonia, so that was probably a wise policy.

Mr. Randolph died peacefully at his home in Manhattan in May, just before my wedding, although I didn’t hear about it until I read it in this month’s Freethought Today. The New York Times also has an obituary, and the New York Public Library has posted the last-ever interview with him, taped in March.

While I mourn David Randolph’s passing, I can’t be too saddened for too long. I can only hope to have a life so long and rich as his, and to spend it doing what I love until just before my death, as he did. A life so well-lived deserves to be celebrated, not excessively grieved. I’ll miss him, but I’m happy that we had him!

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Katie M

    I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never heard of him. I will certainly learn more about him, though.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I’d never met him before that luncheon either, but what an absolutely lovely man.

    He was a huge supporter of FFRF and a dear friend to Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker over the years.

    Of course, it is sad to lose such a wonderful person, but we should all be so lucky to live such a full and accomplished and successful life.

  • Eurekus

    I hope my life will be so long and fulfilling. My thoughts are with his family. But why should this be a sad occasion? It’s an opportunity to celebrate a great person.