Longtime musicians honored

Mildred Dewberry, right, an honoree, sings with the community choir during the Musicians Appreciation program at Johnson Chapel Baptist Church.

BRAD McCLENNY/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 1:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 1:32 p.m.

The holy ghost had its way at a celebration to honor area church musicians with more than 50 years of experience playing in churches and the community.

Sponsored by the North Central Florida Gospel Announcers' Guild and We Soar Inc., a Williston-based non profit organization, the Musicians Appreciation program held Saturday evening at Johnson Chapel Baptist Church was moving and filled with an old-school church atmosphere that left no doubt that the Lord was present.

The honorees basked in the glow of being recognized for their service through their musical talents.

"This is so wonderful because they are not stretched out up here," said Leonard Marshall, who presided over the program, making a point that it was good to recognize the honorees while they are still living. "It would be robbery if we did not honor and thank them while they are yet still alive."

A choir of singers from the community sang several songs during the service that set the atmosphere, which lasted the entire service, sometimes reaching a fever pitch with loud shouts of "Hallelujah" and "Thank you, Lord."

The honorees were: Al Benjamin, Willie Brinson, Naomi B. Couzart, Betty J. Daniels, Mildred Dewberry, Arvetta Hill, Johnnie M. Kamma, Richard Parker, J.C. and Yvonne Rawls, Angela Terrell, Pauline Walker, Altamese Washington and Sammie Washington, all of Gainesville; Joyce Hathcock, Gussie Lee and Thelma Welch, of Alachua; Roosevelt Butler of High Springs and Rutha M. Smith of Raleigh.

Marshall led the choir during several songs, including "I'm Not Tired Yet." Marshall said he remembers growing up in the church when many churches didn't have cushioned pews and dinner was served from the trunks of church members' cars.

He said he also remembers when many churches didn't allow instruments in the sanctuary other than a piano and he remembers the old saints making sweet melodies just by humming. Marshall then thanked the honorees for "paving the way for all of these young fellas to come along."

He said the church musicians from past generations didn't receive any pay, but he added that if most churches didn't pay their musicians today, they wouldn't have music on Sunday.

The honorees in attendance received plaques handed to them during two separate presentations by Mimi Johnson, founder and president of We Soar, Kenneth Johnson, minister of music at Old Jerusalem Baptist Church in the Monteocha community, and Leona Williams, a member of Mount Moriah Baptist Church.

Dewberry was the last honoree to get a plaque and organizers had her sing her signature song, "I'm on the Right Road Now," after which she shouted praises to God while doing a little two-step dance on the way to her seat.

Dewberry, 76, began playing music in church at the age of 10 or 11 at Mount Moriah, when it was located near the old Coca-Cola bottling plant.

"I feel so good, way down in my soul," she said.

All of the honorees thanked the organizers, including Hill, a talented saxophonist and vocalist who thanked God for saving her. She said she was in New York playing jazz in clubs in the early 1960s when God told her to come back home to Gainesville and use her talents to lift up the kingdom of God.

Although she wasn't on the program to do so, she seized the opportunity to give the crowd a sampling of her voice. She didn't have her saxophone with her, but she sat at an organ and played a song she wrote that included the lyrics, "The places I used to go, I don't go no more. The things I used to do, I don't do no more."

The program ended with Marshall asking those in the crowd who have sung in choirs directed by the honorees to come to the front of the church, where they stood and sang "Is There Anybody Here Who Loves My Jesus."

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