By William “Skip” Deegans
Born in Lewisburg in 1932, Frederick L. Swann (pictured) became one of our country’s most accomplished organists. He died this past December. His parents were the Rev. Theodore and Mary Swann. Rev. Swann was minister of Lewisburg’s Methodist Church South. The Swann family moved to Clifton Forge and then to Winchester. Frederick, who began playing the piano at age 5, was playing the organ at a Methodist Church in Winchester by the time he was 10 years old. After graduating from Robert E. Lee High School in Winchester, he received a degree in music from Northwestern University and a master’s degree from the Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music in New York City where he also studied with the organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
From 1953-1982, Swann was the organist and director of music at Manhattan’s Riverside Church. In 1982, he left New York to become the director of music and organist at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California where he performed on the Hazel Wright Organ, the fifth largest pipe organ in the world with 273 ranks. While at the Crystal Cathedral, Swann appeared on the weekly television show, Hour of Power, that was viewed by an estimated 20 million viewers in 165 countries.
In 1998, Swann became the organist at the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles where he played one the largest organs in the world with 18,094 speaking pipes. In his lifetime, Swann played at more than 3,000 recitals all over the United States and in several foreign countries. He taught at the Guilmant Organ School, Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University and the University of Redlands. He was often called upon to give inaugural recitals on new or rebuilt organs. In 2004, he was the first to play the 6,134 pipe organ at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. He is featured on numerous recordings and may be listened to on Spotify. Upon his death at 91, Swann was survived by George Dickey, his partner of 64 years.
Sources: American Guild of Organists, New York Times, Riverside Church, First Congregational Church.
Photo courtesy of the University of Redlands.