A funeral, life 'about music'

Tribute: Nathan M. Carter Jr., who directed the Morgan State choir, is praised by politicians, students and clergy.

July 22, 2004|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Soaring, joyous music filled New Shiloh Baptist Church yesterday for the funeral of Nathan M. Carter Jr. -- much as he had planned it.

The Morgan State University Choir that he molded, directed and loved for 34 years brought the congregation to its feet, singing and clapping with their first hymn, "Rise, Shine, Give God the Glory."

Nathan Carter died Thursday of pancreatic cancer at age 68 after a prolonged illness. He had made the Morgan choir an internationally renowned and award-winning organization.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Thursday's editions of The Sun on the funeral of Morgan State University choir director Nathan Carter misidentified the singer leading the hymn "The Lord Be Praised." She is Elizabeth Norman, a soloist with the New Shiloh Baptist Church choir, led by Rodney Whitley.
The Sun regrets the error.

Yesterday, his body lay in a Burgundy mahogany casket adorned with roses before a bank of floral tributes at the center of the sanctuary. His wife, Jean Roane Carter, sat with family members and friends in the first pew as religious, academic and political figures paid tribute from the pulpit.

The 2,500-capacity sanctuary was full, and many stood in the back or watched by closed-circuit television in adjoining rooms. Two big screens beside the altar showed the singing and preaching larger than life-size. The church was full by 10 a.m., an hour before the services began; they continued for more than three hours.

The Morgan choir swelled to more than 200, with alumni joining the undergraduate singers. They filled the stage behind the altar and stood on the stairs rising to the balconies.

"Once you're in the choir, then you're always in the choir," said Doris Gray, a technical writer who sang with the chorus on its 1974 European tour. "Nathan made you love music."

People said that over and over during the services.

Dr. Carter had planned much of his funeral. He called his brother, the Rev. Harold A. Carter, the pastor of New Shiloh, to his bedside about a month ago saying, "Hal, I need to see you," the minister said.

"He asked me: `Will you preach my funeral?'" Mr. Carter said. "How could I say no? I remember sleeping in bed with him in Selma, Alabama. That little room with Mama's quilt on top of us. When that quilt slid down on my side of the bed, there was a fight. When it slid down on his side, there was a fight, too.

"How could I say no?"

Nathan Carter, dying, had a Palm Pilot and was still writing scores.

"He said, `I don't want my funeral to be sad,'" the pastor said. "`I want it to be about music.'"

So his brother preached an impassioned sermon that roused the congregation to exultation and moved the Morgan chorus to sway in time with his words. He said his brother "came out of a tradition where all kinds of songs were sung."

"Those ancestors of ours, they took their vision and their pain; they took their struggles, and they took their hardships and turned them into music. They gave us truths you can't get at Oxford."

He noted that former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, sent a note expressing their concern during the illness. Dr. Carter had led the Morgan choir at the White House during the Clinton administration and for Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Carter said Simmie Knox, a portrait painter and sculptor who recently completed the official White House portrait of Bill Clinton, had been commissioned to do a portrait bust of Dr. Carter to be placed in the atrium of the Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State. Dr. Carter was instrumental in getting the Murphy Center built.

The music Dr. Carter wanted began with the New Shiloh choir, led by Demetrius Taylor, singing a rousing version of "May the Lord Be Praised" with a gospel performance by soprano Elizabeth Houge. Dr. Carter was a longtime member of his brother's church and had served as headmaster of the New Shiloh School of Music since 1994, when it was formed.

The pulsating gospel of the New Shiloh choir was propelled and punctuated by strong drumming with trumpet and trombone accents that gave the music the edge of a New Orleans jazz funeral.

Dr. Carter's daughter, Lynn Carter, a classical soprano, sang "I Know My Redeemer Liveth," from Handel's Messiah, accompanied by Eric Conway, chairman of the fine arts department at Morgan and Dr. Carter's associate choir director. Issachah Savage, a tenor who was one of Dr. Carter's proteges at Morgan, sang the evergreen Thomas Dorsey hymn "Precious Lord" in an arrangement by his mentor.

Many clergymen were called to the altar to offer tributes to Dr. Carter. They included the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and stepbrother of former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Earl Richardson, president of Morgan, praised Dr. Carter profusely, as did Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"If one should look for God's beauty in this earth, one need look no further than his eyes and that broad smile," Mr. O'Malley said. "What Frederick Douglass did around the world with oratory, Dr. Nathan Carter did around the world with music. Dr. Carter made our city a better place, a more joyful place."

In a fond remembrance during his turn, Dr. Carter's son, Ryan, said: "Everybody knows that my dad was one of the most extraordinary musicians of his or any era. Everybody knows my dad's wardrobe was so extensive and expensive and, let's say, outlandish from time to time, that he had only one peer -- the late, great Liberace."

He drew hearty laughs. Everybody did know of the ruffles and flourishes of Dr. Carter's performance costumes.

But there was more than the music of his life to talk about.

He said his father loved sports and sporting events and that they went to Orioles and Ravens games together.

"He was a champion bowler," Ryan Carter said. "He had an average in the low 200s."

"The few times I went bowling with Dad," Ryan Carter said, "he whupped me."

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