ROCK HILL, S.C. – The Winthrop Alumni Association will help launch a campaign to restore the historic D.B. Johnson Memorial Organ in the university’s Byrnes Auditorium with a $20,000 gift.
During the organ’s golden anniversary this year, university alumni and friends are asked to contribute to renovate the organ to its former glory. Rock Hill organist Shirley Fishburne '72 and '73 will co-chair the effort with former Board of Trustees chair and local attorney David White.
Other campaign steering committee members are: Ray and Emma Doughty, Bill Easley, Ann Herlong, Claudia Ann Jenkins and Bettye Rawls.
Details about the campaign will be announced Jan. 16 after an organ concert in Byrnes by the Rock Hill Music Club. Mini-concerts to raise awareness of the fund-raising campaign are planned around the region in February and March with a final celebration concert expected in the fall.
"I am honored to be part of this project and I am looking forward to meeting alumni and talking with them about the refurbishing of our instrument," said Fishburne. "For many years, those of us who play this organ have become concerned about the desperate need for repair. Because 2005 marks the 50th anniversary of the installation of the organ, it is appropriate that we start this campaign."
The D.B. Johnson Memorial Organ, which is named after Winthrop’s first president and founder, is widely regarded as one of the most valuable and historic organs in this part of the country. The Boston company that built it, the Æolian-Skinner Organ Company, constructed some of the finest mid-20th century instruments in the U.S. Winthrop’s organ is one of the few in the country to have been adjusted by G. Donald Harrison, Æolian-Skinner’s legendary tuner.
Addition of the organ to Byrnes in the 1950s meant that Rock Hill instantly became a premiere venue for many of the Southeast’s finest concerts. It also increased opportunities for Winthrop students who were given a chance to play an artistic treasure and to observe many of the country’s top organists, including the famed American virtuoso Virgil Fox who played at the inaugural recital in November 1955.
Winthrop’s alumni have taken an active role with the organ, even before it was purchased. Graduates first sought to raise money for it in 1949, contributing $18,000 to a final cost of $70,000. The state of South Carolina contributed another $35,000 with the remaining funds coming from Winthrop. The college contracted in 1952 with the Æolian-Skinner company for a large four-manual instrument with 3,788 pipes, which makes the organ to this day one of the largest in the Carolinas.
The replacement cost of a comparable instrument today would be more than a million dollars, but the same organ could never be duplicated, university officials said.
Money from the campaign will be used to renovate the organ’s pipe work, install a digital memory system, replace the leather components and rebuild the organ’s console.
"I am delighted to be involved in this project to restore and preserve one of the great treasures of our state and region," said White. "The organ in Byrnes is a rare and valuable instrument and a great cultural asset to our community. Its future depends upon private contributions."
For more information, contact the Office of Development at 803/323-2150.