Joseph S. Whiteford, 56, a former Washington lawyer and retired president of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co. of Bostom, died of a cerebal hemorrhage Sept. 21 at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif.

While with Aeolian-Skinner, he helped design and direct the installation of organs in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, the Christian Science Mother Church in Boston, St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York, and Washington Cathedral.

Mr. Whiteford was born in Washington and reared in Chevy Chase. He earned a bechelor's degree from Western Maryland College and a law degree from George Washington University. He received doctoral degrees from Western Maryland College and Columbia University.

He started taking organ lessons at the age of 8, built his own organ at the age of 25, and became president of Aeolian-Skinner in 1956, seven years after joining the firm. He retired as chairman of the board several years ago.

He appeared in summer stock here and in New Hampshire as an actor and singer, and practiced law in Washington with his father, the late Roger J. Whiteford, before joining Aeolian-Skinner.

During World War II, he served in the Army and broadcast a radio show for the Armed Forces from Atlantic City that featured music he played on what was then the world'd largest organ.

There are no immediate survivors.

It is suggested that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society, Sidwell Friends School in Washington, or Western Maryland College.