Nancy Faust has been a name synonymous with the Chicago White Sox for as long as many of us can remember. For 40 years, she entertained fans with her iconic organ, and shaped the way music would be played at baseball games across the nation. Even years after her retirement, Nancy still finds ways to entertain her followers on social media with short videos of her playing popular classics.
Recently, we were fortunate enough to catch up with the former Sox organist and ask her about the highlights of her playing career. Enjoy!
Growing up, at what age did you begin playing instruments? How did your interest in playing the organ come about?
I must have been about three when a brown plastic electronic toy keyboard caught my fancy, and I had the ability to pick out simple melodies that I heard on an old phonograph record player. Likely, Gene Autry Christmas songs.
In 1951, my parents bought a large Hammond so my mother, Jackie Faust (her maiden name) could expand her professional musical talents. The instrument was fascinating, and I transferred my limited skills to it. Unlike my versatile mom, I only played by ear and to this day, that’s the sad truth. My repertoire slowly expanded as I added chords and sat at the seat’s edge to reach the pedals.
How did you get the opportunity to become the organist for the White Sox?
My mother wasn’t able to meet the demand for all her work, as live music was king back in the day. When in my last year of college as a psych major at North Park, I filled in for her at a dinner attended by Stu Holcomb. He was a new marketing/GM at Sox Park hired by owner John Allyn. My baseball enthusiastic classmates insisted I follow up with a note of interest. The rest was history.
I’d only attended one game in the mid-60s prior to what would become a string of thousands of games after my 1970 hire. That was an all-time low attendance year. My organ was located in centerfield, a unique outdoor spot, the idea of Bill Veeck who hired the first organist, (late) Shay Torrent in 1960. Shay moved to California in 1967 and played for the Angels for decades.
What was it like originally playing out in the centerfield stands of Comiskey Park compared to behind home plate where you later moved?
It was lonely out there, but a great place for me to cut my teeth. Not much was expected of my job other than playing when fans entered the park, the national anthem, and “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” Stu suggested playing a state song for our players, a piece of cake as my mom was able to hum anything over the phone if I needed help. I also listened to radio broadcasts to get a feel for the game.
By the time I moved behind home plate in ’72, the park exploded with fans. Bill Melton, Wilbur Wood, and Dick Allen’s arrival with Harry promoting every aspect of the game, myself included, cemented that. Fans embraced the visual high profile location as I was totally accessible. Their input and knowledge for song ideas was invaluable, and their positive feedback encouraged me to do the one thing I could do well, play requests that evolved into a soundtrack for every aspect of the game.
Another added dimension was playing off scoreboard messages that were now visible from my new perch. There were a spontaneous few measures of a recognizable song to connect everything, anything, every player. I was in my wheelhouse. I knew it I loved it.
Many remember Harry Caray for signing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with the Chicago Cubs. However, that actually started on the South Side when he broadcasted for the White Sox, largely because of your playing. What are your memories of when his tradition of signing out loud began?
When Bill Veeck entered the scene, he moved the organ location down to the 3rd baseline so it wouldn’t occupy the most coveted box seats behind home plate. As it turned out, the advantage of that location allowed me eye contact with the broadcast booth. This was helpful when Bill gave Harry the mic to lead the fans during the stretch. We coordinated with hand gestures and eye contact. I gave him an intro that made it easy for Harry to determine his starting note. The visual to his body language signaled me to respond with his unique style of “dance” to the likes of Jailhouse Rock or Rock around The Clock.
“What does ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” mean to you? How do you think opposing pitchers felt about that when they’d hear it come on?
“Na Na Goodbye” was nothing planned. I played it in ’77 when the visiting pitcher was removed. It provided the accelerant that lit the fans in song, as we vied for first place with the Royals. Up to that point, fans expressed themselves with yelling “Charge”, Let’s Go Sox” chants, or hand claps.
The singing was a joyful expression of unification for all. It became a lighthearted taunt or celebration if the Sox hit a home run. Mercury re-released the record and presented me with a gold record in a park ceremony later that year. It is now displayed in the Grammy Museum’s “Music in Baseball “exhibit.
Is it true that you only missed a handful of games during the course of your career? What kept you so dedicated to playing on such a consistent basis?
The best part of my “job” – I would describe every game as a grand party, win or lose. The park was the constant that provided bonds and memories. It continues to do so.
Looking back what was your favorite memory (or memories) from performing at Sox games?
Winning the World Series was certainly icing on the cake. I was emotional for those who were no longer around to realize their “pipedream.” Some of those fan photos were among the many that graced the walls of my booth. My most memorable was the last game at Old Comiskey. Totally bittersweet.
If you had to pick one song to perform, which one would it be?
My “walk-up” then and now, “This Used to Be My Playground” by Madonna.
Finally, a few years ago you performed at a Cubs-Sox exhibition at Camelback Ranch. Could we see you make a return in the future when things are back to normal for another guest appearance?
YES. I will play again if asked.
On behalf of the entire Sox On 35th team, I would like to thank Nancy for taking the time to chat. It’s always great to connect with those who’ve had such a profound impact with the organization, both on the field and off. Let’s hope we get to hear Nancy make another appearance very soon!
Be sure to follow Nancy on Twitter for more at @Played41.
Featured photo courtesy of Nancy Faust