In Memory of David Ramsey, Distinguished Service Professor of Music Emeritus


Publication Date: 1/18/2008


David Ramsey
December 12, 1939-January 17, 2008

David Ramsey, Distinguished Service Professor of Music Emeritus at Rhodes College, died Thursday, January 17, 2008, after a long illness. He was 68.

A native of Nashville, TN, Ramsey also served as director of music and organist at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Memphis and organist for the Memphis Redbirds.

Ramsey’s piano instruction began at the age of 5. His father was minister of Woodbine Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Nashville, and his mother was a choir singer and director. He made his church debut at the age of 9. Ramsey was organist in his father’s church for the last seven years of the senior Ramsey’s tenure at Woodbine. With his Sundays spoken for, Ramsey spent his spare time in the ballpark, watching the Nashville Vols. “They didn’t have an organ in the park,” he once said, “but I can remember being turned on by the sound of an organ in a broadcast of a major league game. To this day I listen to the background and tune out the announcer.”

Ramsey received a bachelor of music degree from Rhodes in 1961, and in 1963, a master of sacred music degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Beginning in 1963, he served as a member of the administrative staff of the annual Sewanee Church Music Conference of the Episcopal Church. He was a member of the Memphis chapter of the American Guild of Organists and held memberships in Pi Kappa Lambda national honorary music fraternity and Omicron Delta Kappa national honorary service fraternity.

He began his teaching career at Rhodes in 1965. He was accompanist for the Rhodes Singers and MasterSingers Chorale, traveling the country and the world with both groups. He received the Charles E. Diehl Society Faculty Award for Service in 1990.

“David Ramsey was a gracious servant of the musical score—a true grace note,” said Rhodes Music Department chair Tim Sharp, who holds the Elizabeth G. Daughdrill Chair in The Fine Arts and is college dean of fine arts. “My last encounter with David was holding his hand and discussing Bach’s ‘Mass in B Minor’.” Sharp will conduct the Rhodes Singers, MasterSingers Chorale, Rhodes Women’s Chorus and Memphis Symphony Orchestra in a March 28 performance of Bach’s mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The performance will be dedicated to Ramsey.

Ramsey was recognized as an accompanist for singers, instrumentalists and choirs, as well as for his solo concert engagements. In December 1999 he conducted the 75th anniversary performance of Handel’s “Messiah” at Memphis’ downtown Calvary Episcopal Church. It was also the 35th consecutive year of his involvement in Calvary’s “Messiah”.

Throughout the years, Ramsey served as director of music and organist at Church of the Holy Communion and St. John’s United Methodist Church. In 1999 he went to First Presbyterian Church, where he became a member.

“David Ramsey was so important to the life of this congregation,” said the Rev. C.V. “Bo” Scarborough, pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “He taught this congregation so much. He made our music joyful, even fun. I know many think church music isn’t supposed to be fun, but it has been with David. And, of course, we had visitors who really came in hope that David would play ‘Charge.’ He will be so missed here.”

Many Memphians know him as the organist for the old Memphis Blues baseball club, later the Memphis Chicks, and now the Memphis Redbirds, where, from the organ above and behind home plate at AutoZone Park, he matched the music to the moment, stoking the fans’ enthusiasm throughout every game.

“Baseball and life around the ballpark is all about the people we meet, work with and get to know,” Redbirds President/GM Dave Chase said. “I first worked with David in 1979, my second season in baseball, at McCarver Stadium with the Chicks. From that time forward David was always quick with a smile and a heartfelt ‘How are you doing.’ I missed him last season and will always remember him when I walk through the press box and see the ballpark organ sitting primed for another game, another season—but without our friend, David.”

Before Ramsey became a baseball organist, he kept the scoreboard for the home games. He also operated the scoreboard for Rhodes home football and men’s and women’s basketball games for more than 30 years.

“David Ramsey meant so much to Rhodes College and the city of Memphis,” said Rhodes President William E. Troutt. “The many people who studied under him, sang to his music or just listened to and enjoyed it know they were in the presence of a master. We will miss him.”

Ramsey leaves his sister, Gayla Sutton of Hernando, MS, and his aunt, Charlene Turner of Springfield, IL.

Visitation will be Monday, Jan. 21, 5-7 p.m. at Memorial Park Funeral Home, 5668 Poplar.

A memorial service will be held Tuesday, January 22, at 3:30 p.m. at Idlewild Presbyterian Church, 1750 Union Ave.

The family requests that memorials be sent to Rhodes College, 2000 N. Parkway, Memphis, TN 38112; First Presbyterian Church, 166 Poplar Ave., Memphis, TN 38103; or the American Guild of Organists-Memphis Chapter, P.O. Box 770004, Memphis, TN 38117.

Memorial Park Funeral Home 901-767-8930.