Richard Cook Wall, 71, of Chapel Hill, NC, passed away Saturday, September 26, 2015, at Carolina Point Nursing Home in Durham, NC.
Richard was born in Charleston, SC, to James Benjamin Wall and Miriam (née) Cook Wall and raised in Sandersville, GA. He attended Stetson University in 1966 and received his Bachelor of Music from Georgia College in 1971 and a Master of Music from Louisiana State University in 1972.
A talented pianist from a young age, Richard had a long and successful career beginning in New York City as a professional musician, conductor, and church organist. He was music director for several national tours, including Chicago (1980-82) and Whoopee (1981). He conducted Chicago for Bob Fosse on five national tours, appeared with Chita Rivera, Imogene Coca, and Mamie Van Doren, and was chosen by Richard Rodgers to conduct the 25th anniversary performances of The Sound of Music in New York. He worked as music director for the theater festival at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, in Santa Maria, California, 1985-88. He was a respected teacher and vocal coach throughout his career.
Richard was also known for playing the wealthy, Piaf-loving Douglas in Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances. Despite a plot that involved AIDS at the height of the epidemic, Parting Glances was the one of the first films that focused on the normal ups and downs of a relationship while living the exciting, friend-filled life in New York City. The film features a knockout performance by Steve Buscemi; Richard, portraying an older, humorless, quintessential queen steals most of the film’s scenes with his acerbic wit.
Upon relocating to Chapel Hill in 1994, Richard managed the classical FM radio station WCPE. He also worked closely with Long Leaf Opera as a pianist, coach, and musical adviser, presenting many concert programs for the company. He was chorus master for Long Leaf’s Lost in The Stars and created and directed the Weill/Blitzstein Cabaret. He also conducted Into the Woods at United Church of Chapel Hill in 2013.
Richard was music director and conductor for the Duke Childrens’ Golf Classic Celebrity Show for several years. He worked with a number of local theatre and opera companies; coached dozens of singers and musicians over the years; and created and directed several benefits for local charities including Habitat for Humanity and Equality NC.
His many loves included grand opera, musical theatre, old movies, cooking, reading biographies and histories, and reminiscing about his “days on the road.”
It was often an additional treat for his voice students to be regaled with tales of his dealings with Broadway luminaries or entertained by his renditions of obscure numbers stemming from his seemingly endless knowledge of musical theatre repertoire.
Richard is survived by a sea of friends, students, and colleagues who, through his generous talent and spirit, were touched by his gifts and wisdom and made the better for it.
A memorial service will be planned and announced at a later date.
(We are grateful to Evelyn McCauley for this obituary and tribute.)