Actual Factual Georgia: Not all Fox organists are known

Q: How many people have been the organists for the Fox Theatre’s Mighty Mo pipe organ? Who were they?

—Paul Meyers, Kennesaw

UPDATED 2/21/2016: A 'flashy kind of performer': Longtime Fox Theatre organist remembered 

A: Let’s clear the air.

Many of the world’s top organists have played the Mighty Mo in the 85 years it’s made its home in Atlanta, but the Fox Theatre doesn’t have a complete list.

“Fox ownership has changed a number of times since 1929, and we do not have each owner’s records in our archives,” Carmie McDonald, the Fox Theatre Institute Director, wrote in an email.

Bob Van Camp might be the most remembered, and perhaps, most cherished by older Atlantans.

He was the house organist from 1963-1987 and sometimes played several shows a day.

If you don’t recognize Van Camp from the Fox, you might have known his voice, since he also was the chief announcer, music director and host of the “Morning Merry-Go-Round” for WSB Radio from 1947-74, according to his bio on the Georgia Radio Museum and Hall of Fame’s website (www.grhof.com).

Other notable players include:

Virgil Fox, who died in 1980, was known for his animated versions of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Hector Olivera, an Argentine organist, not the Atlanta Braves third baseman. Olivera began playing at 3 years old and continues to tour.

Ken Double, a long-time sports announcer who is president of the American Theatre Organ Society.

If you take in a show at the Fox these days, you’ll see Larry-Douglas Embury at the keys.

He came to the Fox in 2002 and played 61 shows that summer before he was named the permanent organist in residence at the Fox.

Other famous organists who have played the Mighty Mo include: Simon Gledhill, Dennis James, Billy Nalle, Jonas Nordwall, John Seng and Walt Strony, among others.

In case you never seen or heard the Mighty Mo, here’s some background on the second largest theater organ in the world.

M.P. Moller, Inc. – hence, the name “Mo” – made the organ for $42,000 in 1929. The only larger organ is the one at Radio City Music Hall, called a Mighty Wurlitzer, which was built in 1933 and has 58 ranks.

The Mighty Mo was valued at $400,000 in 1974, but “today its value is priceless,” the Fox website states.

The instrument has 42 ranks, four manuals and 376 stop tabs. The 3,622 pipes range in size from a ballpoint pen to 32 feet tall and wide enough for a man to stand in it.

But only the world’s best organists can master the Mighty Mo, which can be heard before traveling Broadway performances, the Summer Film Festival and the Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker.

RELATED: Flashback fotos: The Fox Theatre, 1929-2008

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Allison Floyd with Fast Copy News Service contributed. If you’re new in town or have questions about this special place we call home, ask us! E-mail Andy Johnston at q&a@ajc.com or call 404-222-2002.

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