David Randolph, 95, New York City, a creative genius and Foundation Lifetime Member, died at home May 12, 2010, of complications from pneumonia and cancer.
His wife, Mildred, had died on Sept. 10, 2008. They had no children, but his “baby brother,” Stanley Rosenberg, 91, also a Foundation member, survives him.
David was honored at an April 19, 2009, luncheon hosted by Foundation Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor in New York City for his stellar contributions to the performance of music, secular and otherwise, and for his support of the Foundation. The luncheon was timed to coincide with a spring concert of the St. Cecelia Chorus (entirely secular despite the inherited name), featuring works by freethought composers, including Brahms.
David, in his remarks, identified himself as a “lifelong atheist.”
“Now I must say that in 50 years of conducting six different choruses in New Jersey, Manhattan and Long Island, I have never once mentioned the word God or Christ, except to make sure that the singers put the ‘d’ on God, and the ‘st’ on Christ at the same time, so we don’t get a lot of hissing.
“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. So there’s the answer to how you conduct ‘religious’ music.”
It was his contention that there is “no such thing as religious music” (the words hold a message, not the music per se, which can be used to convey anything).
The New York Times published a lengthy obituary May 15, noting that the choral conductor’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.
He 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. David, who had been hospitalized recently for two bouts of pneumonia, retired from the post the Sunday before his death.
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.
David Rosenberg was born in Manhattan on Dec. 21, 1914. He changed his name early in life. 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, he 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. In 1948, he married its alto, Mildred Greenberg.
He wrote This Is Music: A Guide to the Pleasures of Listening (1964).
The Foundation sends its condolences to David’s brother, Stanley Rosenberg; Sheridan Chapin, a Lifetime Foundation member and friend of many years; Shirley May, the FFRF member who first introduced David to FFRF; and to his extended “family,” the members of the St. Cecilia Chorus.
“This is the passing of an era,” Gaylor said. “Like our other octogenarian and nonagenarian members, David was an especially ardent supporter of the separation between church and state. He grew up when it was a revered principle. We will really miss him.”
“He was not only a strong supporter of the Foundation, but a personal friend, who hosted Annie Laurie and me at many impressive Carnegie Hall performances we will never forget,” said Barker.