Music News & Reviews

Morehead, Lexington musician Jay Flippin dies at 68; Saturday concert will be a tribute to him

Jay Flippin was the accompanist and arranger for The Lexington Singers since 1976. Flippin died Thursday morning. He was 68.
Jay Flippin was the accompanist and arranger for The Lexington Singers since 1976. Flippin died Thursday morning. He was 68. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Jay Flippin never missed a gig.

For decades he would load his keyboards into his old station wagon at his Morehead home and drive hundreds of miles to play dates in small town venues or on stages such as New York City's Carnegie Hall.

Even last weekend, late in his fight with liver cancer, Mr. Flippin was onstage in Mount Sterling and playing for services at First Baptist Church of Morehead, where he was director of music for more than 40 years.

And the Lexington Singers, for whom he was accompanist and arranger since 1976, were hoping for one last concert with Mr. Flippin. But now, Saturday night's performance at Lexington Christian Academy will be a tribute to Mr. Flippin, who died Thursday morning. He was 68.

"He was one of these people who were at the top of their craft but remained so humble," Lexington Singers director Jefferson Johnson said Thursday. "He was unbelievable."

That spirit carried over to his academic work, said M. Scott McBride, dean of the Caudill College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Morehead State University, where Mr. Flippin taught for 45 years.

"All the students adored him because he wanted to help them find their voice," McBride said. "It was never about him."

Mr. Flippin's music career started 58 years ago as a church organist in his hometown of Stuart, Va. He was 10.

By the time he was in high school, Mr. Flippin was playing for three churches and arranging music for rock 'n' roll bands so they could play songs they were hearing on the radio. His skills became more refined after he got to North Carolina's Mars Hill College and began arranging music by composers such as George Gershwin.

"The first time I heard them play my arrangement ... what a moment," Mr. Flippin said during a 2013 interview with the Herald-Leader, recalling hearing a classmate sing his arrangement of Summertime. "I said, 'This is way too much fun.'"

The fun continued in Morehead and several long-term gigs with a lot of diversions.

"He was from a generation that said, 'Stick and stay and make it pay,'" Johnson said. "He was loyal. I know he had offers to go other places and play and compose. And he would go out and play with Percy Sledge and Count Basie, Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett, but he always came back to Morehead and his wife, Nancy.'"

Among Mr. Flippin's many honors, including outstanding alumni awards from both of his alma maters, Mars Hill and Morehead State' five Emmy Awards for composing film scores, and the artist award in the Governor's Awards in the Arts.

As a performer, Mr. Flippin could be seen in any role, from playing organ and harpsichord for performances of Handel's Messiah, to playing the Hammond B3 organ in rock and jazz combos, to singing the falsetto part of a Frankie Valli song he arranged for the Lexington Singers.

"There are a slim few that are so competent in so many things," McBride said. "And it wasn't superficial. He did all of these things very well."

During that 2013 interview, Mr. Flippin said he hoped to stay with Lexington Singers until he was 70, "and then I'll still probably want to keep going."

And that was what he wanted to do up until his last few days, including teaching as an adjunct professor at Morehead.

"He really wanted to make it to the end of the semester with those students," McBride said. "I think those students had a semester like no other. Here was a guy who was clearly fading, but he wanted to be there with them."

And he wanted to play his final concert with the Singers, which had been moved from November to Saturday night in hopes he would be able to play. And until the past few days, there were hopes he could play at least a few numbers. After hearing of Mr. Flippin's passing, his passing, Johnson said, several local musicians have asked to play in Saturday's concert, including University of Kentucky saxophonist Miles Osland and retired UK music professor Dick Domek, who will play the jazz portions of the concert Mr. Flippin was slated to play.

Trumpeter Vince DiMartino already was engaged to play numbers, including Mr. Flippin's arrangement of Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis' How High the Moon.

And then, at 2 p.m. Sunday, the Singers will go to Morehead State's Button Auditorium for Mr. Flippin's funeral, which was moved from First Baptist Church when it was clear that it could not accommodate the expected crowd.

Mr. Flippin is survived by his wife of 45 years, Nancy; daughters Victoria Snyder of Carmel, Ind., and Emily Maruna of Portland, Ore.; brother Richard Flippin, and three grandchildren.

Visitation will be 3:30 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Northcutt & Son Home for Funerals, Morehead. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Jay Flippin Music Scholarship, in care of Cate Mart of the Lexington Singers, P.O. Box 23002, Lexington, Ky. 40523, or the Legacy Fund of First Baptist Church of Morehead, 123 East Main Street, Morehead, Ky. 40351.

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