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Obituary for George Turberville McWhorter
George Turberville McWhorter, Jr. 88 years of age, passed away in his sleep at Treyton Oak Towers Assisted Living Facility in Louisville, KY on 25 Apr 2020. He was born 10 May 1931 in Washington, DC and was the son of George Turberville McWhorter, Sr. & Mary Nell (Dismukes) McWhorter. He is preceded in death by his brother, Richard Thornton McWhorter who died in 1943 at the age of 4 and his sister, Mary Madeline (McWhorter) Brown who died 27 Dec 2016, at age of 83.

George was a child prodigy who began singing as a boy soprano at the age of 4 at the National Cathedral, under the direction of Paul Callaway (who was later to become Director of the Peabody Institute of Music, Impresario of the National Opera Company, and frequent guest conductor of the National Symphony). At the age of 10, George was featured soloist on a nation-wide Christmas broadcast from the National Cathedral and was soloist of many Cathedral oratorio performances during the next ten years, singing such roles as that of “Peter” in the Washington Premiere of Leo Sowerby’s “Forsaken of Man”.

His first operatic performances were with the Columbia Light Opera Company of Washington (directed by Ethyl Manning) and the Chicago La Scala (Fortune Gallo, Impresario). In 1948, with a vocal scholarship from the National Society of Arts & Letters, donated by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, he attended Florida Southern College (Mrs. Whitney's Alma Mater). In 1950 he was baritone soloist in Handel's Messiah with the Gainesville Symphony under the direction of Joseph Lupkiewicz. He graduated with honors in 1951 and gravitated to New York City for advanced vocal study with Paul Althouse, Metropolitan Opera tenor.

In December of 1951 he interrupted his vocal studies to enter the Army at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, where he served as Radio Broadcast Specialist for the Armed Forces Radio Service (staff singer, announcer, newscaster, program chairman), with recorded presentations of his concert programs featured on local ( Philadelphia and Trenton) radio & TV networks. During the final year of Army service, he studied privately at the Curtis Institute of Music with Met baritone Richard Bonelli and held soloist positions at Philadelphia churches & synagogues. He continued to concertize over the Eastern seaboard and was released from the Army in December of 1953 with a distinguished service citation for entertainment of hospitalized service men & women.

Moving to Philadelphia, he was hired by concert organist Alexander McCurdy (Head of Organ Departments at Curtis & Westminster Choir College) to sing in his famous Oratorio Chancel Choir which performed a different oratorio each week. (Over 100 oratorios were added to his repertoire during this period.) In 1954, with a voice scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, he studied with Met baritone Julius Huehn and performed leading roles in numerous operatic productions at Eastman, including “La Cenerentola”, “Merry Mount”, “Barber of Seville”, “Carmen”, “Don Giovanni”, “Don Pasquale”, “Eugene Oneggin” and others. While still a student at Eastman he was frequent soloist with the Rochester Philharmonic, Eastman-Rochester Symphony Band, Mercury Ballet Company, Chatauqua Symphony (Alberto Rimboni, conductor), Chatauqua Opera (Alfredo Valenti, Impresario), and in oratorio performances sponsored by the American Guild of Organists. During the summers of his Eastman years, he sang operetta & musical comedy roles in stock companies throughout the U.S. and Canada (over 35 productions, each of 2 weeks' duration).

From 1957-59 he studied at the University of Michigan with Metropolitan baritone Chase Baromeo, having won a scholarship from the Oliver Ditson Publishing Company. He was featured soloist in several operatic productions (including “Ballo En Maschera”, “Maschera”, “Don Giovanni”, “Giaanni Schicchi”). During the Michigan summers he was soloist with the Pittsburgh Civic Opera ("Student Prince") and the Detroit Symphony. (He appeared as soloist in Handel's “Messiah” with the Detroit Symphony in December 1958, Paul Paray conducting.) He graduated with a Master's Degree in Vocal Performance (1959) presenting Schubert's "Die Winterreise" for his degree recital.

In the summer of 1959, he received a Fulbright-Woolley Foreign Study Grant to Paris where he remained for two years as a pupil of baritone Pierre Bernac and studied musicology with Nadia Boulanger. He frequently performed benefit concerts at the American Atelier, Ecole de Musique and the Fondation des Etats-Unis (singing for money was forbidden by the Fulbright Committee!). In 1960, Mlle. Boulanger honored him by selecting him as soloist for the Paris Premiere of Stravinsky's Canticum Sacrum (which she conducted with Leon Barzun's Paris Chamber Orchestra). (note: Two years later, when Boulanger appeared as the first woman conductor of the NY Philharmonic in a performance of the Faure Requiem & Psalms of Lili Boulanger, George was engaged to train the Philharmonic chorus in French diction for the performance.)

In the winter of 1960, George returned to America and settled in New York City, continuing his vocal studies with Met baritone Herbert Janssen. For the next 9 years he sang in six seasons with the NY City Center Opera (Julius Rudel, Impressario) in its home and touring companies of Standard Opera, America Opera, and Gilbert & Sullivan seasons. He was featured in City Center productions of musical comedy as well (Agnes DeMille's company of “Brigadoon”, the Lerner company of “Most Happy Fella”) and appeared at the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts in “I Vespri Sicialani” (Thomas Sherman conducting) and in the Richard Rodgers company of “Show Boat” (Franz Allers conducting) along with a lifelong friend, Margaret Hamilton (better known as her role in Wizard of Oz as the “wicked witch of the west”). He gave frequent recitals at New York's Town Hall and Carnegie Hall, was soloist & Master of Ceremonies at Radio City Music Hall (where he was filmed on NBC-TV at Christmas, 1966), performed at the American Shakespeare Festival, Ed Sullivan Show, Industrial Shows, toured with the New Pro Musica in the “Play of Daniel”, and passed his summers in musical stock companies and soloist on Transatlantic, Trans Caribbean & World cruises for the Swedish-American, Cunard, and United States Steamship Lines.

In 1969, while touring with the NY Pro Musica, he suffered a partial paralysis of the vocal cords (caused by gout) and was informed by medical specialists that the indisposition, though not permanent, would take two years to heal. He returned to the University of Michigan for additional graduate work while his voice healed. While working full time at Michigan's Rare Book Department, he became fascinated with the field and took an A.M.L.S. in 1972 (the same year that he resumed concertizing with full command of his voice). Upon graduation he was offered a faculty appointment to the University of Louisville as Curator of Rare Books and decided to accept, keeping his vocal training and experience as an avocation.

Within several months of his arrival in Louisville, George was contacted by Moritz Bomhard for the K.O.A. He made his Louisville debut with a leading role in the Czech opera “Jenufa” and continued to sing roles with the Kentucky Opera for the next three years (“Boheme”, “Tosca”, “Tabarro”, “Carmina Burana”). He has appeared in fund raising concerts for the Louisville Fund for the Arts, at local women's clubs, Rotary Clubs, Louisville Arts Club, and on civic concert series in other states. In March 1980 he performed a leading role in Donizetti's “IL Campanello” at the Spalding Auditorium followed by concerts at the Louisville Women's Club.

George made quite an impression when he arrived in Louisville in 1972. The University of Louisville had maintained a rare book collection for years, but George was the university's first professionally trained rare books librarian. He brought impressive credentials from the University of Michigan; he also brought his collection of British illustrator Arthur Rackham. George was young and active, riding a bicycle to work a longer distance than anyone else in Louisville ever thought of doing. He also was brilliant, witty, fluent in several languages, passionate about his work, and immediately influential among literary and bookish people in Louisville.

Louisville discovered more facets of the new Curator of Rare Books. Trained as an opera and concert singer, George had begun his career as a boy soprano in the choir of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Later, as a baritone, George earned degrees in voice from Florida Southern College and the Eastman School of Music before studying in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Pierre Bernac. Once in Louisville, his voice recovered from the gout, he sang as a principal with the Kentucky Opera Association, at recitals - many as benefits for the University and its library - and as soloist for the First Church of Christ, Scientist.

George was a mentor, teacher and champion, and friend to all who worked with him at the University of Louisville. He also had been a major donor to University of Louisville. Since his first gift of the aforementioned Arthur Rackham Collection in 1974, he has regularly diverted a substantial portion of his salary to enhance the university's rare book collection, and to create other significant collections: Danish author Isak Dinesen, Victorian boys' author G.A. Henty, and turn of the last century fine press publisher Thomas Bird Mosher.

George's most celebrated collection is the Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection, which he developed as a tribute to his mother Nell Dismukes McWhorter, who taught him to read when he was just five years old. "She tried everything," George recalls, "Dickens, Dumas... but when she got to Burroughs, I was hooked!" The largest institutional collection of Burroughs in the world, this vast and comprehensive collection of rare editions, toys, posters, games, photographs, and film has attracted scholars and fans to the University of Louisville for more than thirty years.

In 1986 George was named Curator of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Collection, a fitting title for a man who has furthered scholarship, preserved unique treasures, and brought worldwide attention to Burroughs. Looking toward the future, George has established an endowment to provide continuous support for the Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection. In 2008, he designated a bequest for an endowed chair and curatorship. He also has been working with Burroughs Bibliophiles on their own gifts and bequests.

School children and freshmen students, international scholars and documentary film makers, fans and friends of Edgar Rice Burroughs, all treasure memories of their trips "into the jungle," with George leading tours of the permanent exhibits in the Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection. His friends recall George hauling in synthetic grass to create a jungle floor, painstakingly arranging each artifact and vacuuming the area to ready it for visitors, working - fueled only by coffee - for days and nights on indexes, and painting the teeth of a model dinosaur to make a more accurate representation.

Over the years George devoted a tremendous amount of time and personal resources to the publishing of a new series of quarterly Burroughs Bulletins as well as the monthly newsletter: The Gridley Wave. George gave ERBzine permission to release electronic versions of all his Gridley Waves and to reprint all these zines back to Issue No. 1. George's Burroughs Bulletin was a gorgeous slick magazine with each issue devoted to an ERB title.

After reaching the end of Burroughs titles the BB Board of Directors decided that perhaps the daunting task of publishing these magazines and newsletters on such a regular basis should be turned over to a younger man. The job was taken over by Henry Franke.

Leaving this labour of love that he had invested so many thousands of dollars and man-hours over decades was exceedingly difficult, but he prided himself in the quality and regularity of these hundreds of publications which had brought countless ERB devotees to the fold.

The Burroughs Collection is comprehensive in scope and significance, a source of pride and inspiration, but Curator George McWhorter, with his affection for each of the hundreds of thousands of objects, and bone deep knowledge of every detail, makes it magical.

George was well known by other ERB enthusiasts starting off their yearly banquets with his famous call of the bull mangani! It always brought a unified responding call from the gathered clan.

In 1999, he served as the subject matter expert for the animated Tarzan film by Disney. No one was more well versed on everything Tarzan than George McWhorter!

George belonged to many societies – The Sons of the American Revolution and The Society of Lees of Virginia, among others. His 4th great-grandfather was Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was enormously proud of his heritage and began researching his ancestral lines many years ago and then passed on his research and old letters and photos to his niece, Dr. Patricia Petitt, who was then able to continue the research and publish The Descendants of David McWhirter & Mary Posten (3 vols.), The Turberville Family of Virginia (2 vols.) and Hannah! the latter publication was donated to Stratford Hall Museum Store in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

Surviving George are his nieces and nephews, William Raymond Brown, III, Patricia Lynn (Brown) Petitt, Richard Thornton Brown, Sr., Mark Carter Brown, Kristin Jeanne (Brown) King and Kelley Marie (Brown) Johnson. Also, his first cousins, Harriet Lee (Howell) Burgess and Robert Lesly McWhorter, Sr. He has many cousins, grand nieces and nephews not named in this obituary.

George desired to be cremated and his remains placed in an urn his sister made for him with Tarzan swinging in the trees! This urn will become a part of his beloved ERB collection at the University of Louisville, Rare Books Collections. A Celebration of His Life will be held later this year when all of his family and friends can be together.


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