Richard Morris, 71: Spivey Hall organist in residence

The foundation of Richard Morris’ career in music began taking shape when he was 7. By the time he was 13, he’d already performed a piano solo at the Fox Theatre and was the organist and choir master at Fort McPherson.

“He was quite the child prodigy,” said Robert J. Serredell Jr., his business and touring manager for more than 30 years. “From the age of 7, when he got his first piano, he practiced four hours a day, every day, until he was 17, except for two weeks every year.”

Morris eventually performed in foreign countries and across the United States and Canada. He is one of the few organists to have presented a solo recital at Carnegie Hall.

A former Episcopal priest who once prepared to become a Catholic priest, Morris served the music ministries of several churches in the Atlanta area. At the time of his death, he was the organist in residence at Spivey Hall, a position he had held since the early-1990s.

James Richard Morris of Mableton died Sept. 12 from injuries sustained in a vehicle accident days earlier. He was 71.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, Mableton. His body will be cremated after the service, and his ashes will be interred at a later date in Aberdeen, Washington, with members of Serredell’s family.

Morris had a particular way he made sheet music come alive, said Sam Dixon, executive and artistic director at Spivey Hall.

“An organist must choose what combination of pipes to use to best express what the composer wanted,” Dixon said. “That is a very personal choice, and it is something at which Richard excelled.”

Morris studied piano at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He went on to study in France and Vienna before returning to the United States in 1965, Serredell said.

Upon Morris’ return it was ministry, not music, that he studied. He earned a master’s of divinity from Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Wisconsin and spent time working as an Anglican priest. But as he moved toward the Catholic priesthood and prepared to be ordained in the Catholic tradition, he was encouraged to return to his music.

“The archbishop told him he needed to take off that collar and go play the organ like he was born to do,” Serredell said. “And the archbishop told him he could touch as many lives through his music as he could through his homilies.”

In the early 1970s, Emilie Spivey, an organist and the founder of Spivey Hall, heard Morris perform and encouraged him to work with renowned organist Virgil Fox, who died in 1980. Morris’ relationship with Spivey led to him serving as a consultant on the design of Spivey Hall’s Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ.

Morris taught at Clayton State University and found time to lend his talent to churches and organ dedications.

“His relationship with his faith never abandoned him,” Dixon said. “But at the same time, he took hearty pleasure in life on earth.”

Morris is survived by his brother, B. Ronald Morris of Waynesville, N.C.