David Randolph

On this date in 1914, brilliant composer and Lifetime Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation David Rosenberg was born in Manhattan. (He changed his last name early in life.) The oldest conductor to conduct at Carnegie Hall, he was noted for his energy, bounding onto the stage, and his short, witty musical explanations to the audience. He held a bachelor's degree from the City College of New York and earned a master's in music education from Teachers College of Columbia University. During World War II, Randolph worked for the U.S. Office of War Information. In 1947, CBS hired him to script classical radio broadcasts. He founded a madrigal group, the Randolph Singers, which performed widely and in 1948, he married its alto, Mildred Greenberg. His sonorous baritone was known to listeners of a weekly classical music program, “Music for the Connoisseur,” on WNYC in New York, later called “The David Randolph Concerts.” The show ran for more than 30 years in New York City and on stations throughout the country, starting in 1946. He wrote the well-received This is Music: A Guide to the Pleasure of Listening (1964).

The New York Times published a lengthy obituary (May 15, 2010) noting that Randolph’s performances of Handel’s “Messiah” (at least 170 full performances with two different choruses) were a mainstay of New York’s holiday season. “Mr. Randolph’s hands were light and fast, and his ‘Messiah’ was known for crispness and fleetness,” noted The Times. Randolph remarked at a luncheon in his honor in New York City, hosted by FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor: “A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of appearing on the Freethought Radio program with Dan and Annie Laurie, and Annie Laurie said to me, ‘How can you as an atheist conduct Handel’s Messiah?’ My answer was this: Suppose Dan were engaged as an actor to play the role of Iago in Shakespeare’s ‘Othello,’ admittedly one of the most vicious and horrible people in the world. Would he be able to do it? Yes. Does he have to be vicious and horrible? No, not at all” (April 19, 2009). "There was no such thing as 'religious' music, Randolph felt . . . there was only music put to different uses, in different contexts," wrote Oliver Sacks, discussing his friend David Randolph. "He would mention [this] when conducting his favorite Requiem Masses by Brahms, Verdi or Berlioz — all of whom, he would remind the audience, were atheists (as he himself was). The religious imagination, he felt, was a most precious part of the human spirit, but he was convinced that it did not require particular religious beliefs, or indeed any religious belief" (a tribute to Randolph in The Paris Review Daily, Dec. 21, 2010). Randolph was the original music director of the Masterwork Chorus, a high-level amateur group he led through 37 seasons and 166 “Messiahs” before stepping down in 1992. He began directing the St. Cecilia Chorus in Manhattan in 1965 (entirely secular despite the inherited name), featuring works by freethought composers, including Brahms. Randolph retired from the post the Sunday before his death, from complications of pneumonia and cancer, at the age of 95. D. 2010.

"Fortunately I was brought up in a family in which religion played almost no part whatsoever."

—-David Randolph, commenting on his lifelong nonbelief, on Freethought Radio (Dec. 20, 2008)

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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