David Randolph

On this date in 1914, composer David Randolph (né Rosenberg) was born in New York City. 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 Mildred Greenberg, an alto in the choir.

His sonorous baritone was known to listeners of the weekly classical music program “Music for the Connoisseur” on WNYC. The program, later called “The David Randolph Concerts,” ran for more than 30 years 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 in 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.

Randolph remarked at a 2009 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.”

“There was no such thing as ‘religious’ music, Randolph felt. … There was only music put to different uses, in different contexts,” wrote Oliver Sacks. (The Paris Review Daily, Dec. 21, 2010.) “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).

Randolph was the original music director of the Masterwork Chorus, a high-level amateur group he led through 37 seasons 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. Randolph retired from the post the Sunday before his death in 2010 from complications of pneumonia and cancer at age 95. (D. 2010)

Freedom From Religion Foundation