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Voice department chair dies at age 72
by Maya Balakrishnan
Virginia Babikian, revered soprano soloist, choral conductor and professor at the Shepherd School of Music, died March 23 at age 72 after a long battle with cancer.

Babikian enjoyed a fruitful and successful career both here at Rice and in other endeavors.

Born in Everett, Mass., Babikian attended Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., where she earned both her bachelor's degree in Voice and master's degree in Choral Conducting in 1951 and 1952, respectively.

Upon her graduation, Babikian was called to be the first Minister of Music at the River Oaks Baptist Church. Babikian's career escalated from there.

In 1952, Leopold Stokowski, the music director of the Houston Symphony at the time, chose Babikian as the soprano soloist for the Texas premiere of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana , giving her musical career a huge boost.

A performance in 1956 brought success to Babikian, who received a Fulbright scholarship to study voice in Rome. Upon returning to the United States, Babikian established a base in New York City. While traveling throughout the United States, Europe, South America, Central America and East Asia, she sang with world-renowned orchestras, opera companies and conductors such as Stokowski, Bernstein, Scherchen and Jenkins.

Babikian came back to Houston in 1958 for the revival and recording of Orff's Carmina Burana .

She pursued her career until 1964, when she married George Stein. She moved to Seguin, Texas, and then back to Houston, where she remained for the next 27 years.

Here in Houston, she joined the faculty at Houston Baptist University as an artist-in-residence and professor of voice from 1965 to 1982.

In 1982, Babikian entered the faculty of Rice University's Shepherd School of Music as the chair of the voice instruction department and a professor of voice.

Babikian has been credited with raising the Houston chorus' vocal standards significantly with her crucial contributions through a long association with the Houston Symphony Chorus; she served first as a vocal coach and then as director for nine years.

This item appeared in the News section of the April 4, 1997 issue.

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