Edgar Priest

First Organist and Choirmaster

A native of West Riding in Yorkshire, England, Edgar Priest (1878-1935) received his musical training at the Royal College of Music in Manchester, where he was assistant to Dr. James Kendrick Pyne, organist of Manchester Cathedral. After serving in the British Army during the Boer War, he immigrated to the United States in 1901. His first post was organist at Christ Church, New Haven, Connecticut, after which he served churches in Kingston and Saratoga, New York. In 1906, he accepted appointment at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on K Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Almost immediately, Priest was charged with organizing Washington’s four vested choirs of men and boys for the laying of the Cathedral’s foundation stone on St. Michael and All Angels Day 1907.

After the death of Bishop Henry Yates Satterlee in February 1908, St. Paul’s rector, Alfred Harding, was elected the second bishop of Washington. When the Harriet Lane Johnston choir school (St. Albans) opened, nine years after the National Cathedral School for Girls, Harding made Edgar Priest supervisor of music at these schools in August 1909. His formal appointment as the Cathedral’s first organist and choirmaster came in 1911 in anticipation of the opening of Bethlehem Chapel for services the following May.

“Daddy” Priest, as he was affectionately called, took an active role in Washington musical organizations as director of the Musurgia Society and the Monday Morning Music Club, and president of the Organists&#0146 and Choir Masters’ League. Although he declined election three times as dean of the American Guild of Organists, he was an avid participant in the Washington Cricket Club. Priest was held in such high esteem that, when he died of pneumonia in March 1935 at the age of 57, he was buried in the Cathedral crypt. His personal music collection is held by the Cathedral Rare Book Library. In keeping with the English cathedral custom of paying homage to a master musician through his own creative art, a choral evensong in his memory featured Priest&#0146s music. The final sung work was his Benediction anthem for Compline.