I thank God for those who allowed me to grow and develop musically and spiritually. I was raised in a church of about 500 people, and I never remember a time that I was not encouraged to fi nd my voice and to use it. My earliest recollection of singing was at age 2, and the fi rst song I ever sang in church was “Jesus is a Waymaker.” My mom said I was humming melodies before I could talk, and by age 4, I was harmonizing with my older brother and sister. The three of us would sing in churches and conferences where my uncles would be preaching, and at age 5, I sang for the United Pentecostal Church’s General Conference, which was held in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Music was always part of our lives, part of my identity. We listened to all styles of music in our home — Southern gospel, black gospel, choral and classical. My mom and dad would take me to Robinson Auditorium to hear the Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers and Speer Family. I loved the harmonious, rhythmic music and the versatility of the different voices and styles. But the moment I stepped into church, I longed to be part of the deeply soulful, worshipful music that poured from the platform and seemed to ignite a fi re throughout the congregation. The more passionate the music was, the more firmly it gripped my soul. It never occurred to me this music was for “grown-ups” or that I should be more interested in “youthful” music. I couldn’t wait to get into the choir and sing in “big” church, which was the only church we had. At age 14, the adult choir welcomed me, and there began my understanding of who I was and the way I could express myself fully. Did I really comprehend the responsibility of being on the platform? No. Were my motives always pure? At 14 years old, maybe not. But I was molded and groomed by singers who were wiser and more godly and who were willing to help shape my talent and my heart so that eventually, I would not only be compelled by the music, but by every word I sang. I realized that the way I would communicate the Gospel to the world was by singing it.
The Spirit-filled worship, praise, dancing and the joy of the Lord on the faces of the people has been forever imprinted in my mind.
As I got older, I remembered that whenever I would face hard times, it was the church I would run to, hoping to abandon the pain and distractions of life by losing myself in the music. When I was young, I would hear my mother talk about women in the church who left alcoholic husbands at home while they brought their children to church; I would hear about girls whose husbands had gone away to fi ght in the war, and they came to church wearing such heaviness. Even my own mother bore a child in my father’s absence as he served our country in World War II, and at 11 months old, that little girl died. My mother bore that grief on her own. Yet somehow, when they were in church, the worry and sadness melted away and there was such peace and happiness on their faces as they escaped into God’s presence and sang and danced and praised the Lord. The one place we could all go and forget our heartaches and struggles was in the midst of the instruments and voices.
To this day, it is a song that gets me through my moments of grief or contemplation or anxiety. The hard times, the good times, the disappointments, the losses and the celebrations — I attach them all to a song. And if you want to know my life’s story, I would be better off singing it to you than telling it.
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