Rev. William Smith Jr.

The well-known Baltimore church organist established the Christian record label Ice Music Group, founded a church

March 15, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

The Rev. William Smith Jr., a well-known Baltimore church organist who established the Christian record label Ice Music Group and founded two choirs and a church, died March 1 of cancer at Seasons Hospice at Northwest Hospital Center.

The Windsor Mill resident was 53.

Mr. Smith was born in Baltimore and raised in the city's Park Heights neighborhood. He was a 1974 City College graduate and attended Towson University and the Peabody Conservatory. He was a graduate of the Living Word Bible College.

"He began playing the organ by ear when he was 7 or 8 years old," said his wife of 11 years, the former Faith Churn, Ice Music Group business manager and co-pastor of Zamar Ministries.

"His soft touch in playing, tonality and chord structure made gospel music his forte," Mrs. Smith said. "He launched a successful career as a lead musician, accompanist, director and minister of music, and became one of the most sought-after church organists in the city."

"If he wasn't playing at one of the black churches, then he was conducting workshops or working with their music staffs," Mrs. Smith said.

At a young age, Mr. Smith joined Highway Christian Church on Homewood Avenue, where he later became the pastor's personal organist.

He later became minister of music at the Victory Center Ministries, which had been established by his brother, the Rev. Tony Smith, in the 4600 block of York Road.

"He later conducted gospel music workshops and praise and worship seminars throughout the country," Mrs. Smith said.

In 1999, Mr. Smith founded Ice Records, which became Ice Music Group in 2005.

"It was a record label that was dedicated to the promotion of gospel performers, artists and musicians," said Mrs. Smith. She added that the company, in addition to making recordings, later expanded its horizons to include gospel concerts, theatrical productions and comedy shows.

"He excelled with a vast mixture of musical artists and groups," his wife said.

Mr. Smith's first production with his company came when he served as musician, writer and executive producer for "Unforgettable Lover," the Victory Center Choir's 1999 debut CD.

"After much exposure on local radio stations, 'Unforgettable Lover' was nominated as the CD of the year in 2000 at the Ministers Music Awards Ceremony," Mrs. Smith said.

In addition to the Maryland Mass Choir, which Mr. Smith co-founded in 2005, he established the Maryland Children's Choir a year later.

The Maryland Mass Choir performed at the Hippodrome Theatre in 2007, and that December returned to the Eutaw Street theater as the backup choir for a production of "The Colors of Christmas," which starred Peabo Bryson, Stephanie Mills, James Ingram and Deniece Williams.

The Maryland Mass Choir was presented a Wammie in 2007 by the Washington Area Music Association for being the best choir in its "gospel inspirational" category.

In addition to his musical work, Mr. Smith had worked as a full-time machine operator for Hedwin Industries for more than 30 years, before retiring in 2005.

In 2007, he founded and became pastor of Zamar Ministries in the 3000 block of Lorena Ave. in Southwest Baltimore, which has been a full-time ministry since 2008.

Bishop Terry M. Forbes, pastor of the Helping You Grow Steadfast Ministry, was a longtime friend and teacher of Mr. Smith's.

"I was one of the pastors who trained him," said Ms. Forbes.

"He was an excellent musician, and you couldn't beat his playing. Whatever he did added greatly to a service. He was just a naturally gifted musician," Ms. Forbes said.

"He was also good at developing people. He saw potential in them and brought it to the surface. He always saw things in the larger light and got them to accomplish things that they thought they were incapable of doing," she said.

Services were held March 6.

In addition to his wife and brother, Mr. Smith is survived by three sons, Cedric Smith of Baltimore, Shelton J. Smith of Owings Mills and Tyler Smith of Windsor Mill; three daughters, Nicole Smith and Kristina Smith, both of Baltimore, and Taylor Smith of Windsor Mill; his father, William Smith Sr. of Baltimore; his mother, Shirley Smith of Baltimore; another brother, Robert Smith of Baltimore; and five grandchildren. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

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