This past weekend the music department of St. Paul AME Church in San Bernardino paid tribute to Bettye Jean Taylor and Helen Judy Robinson, who happen to be two of my favorite choir directors. Bettye is the one who selected songs for me to sing as lead tenor in the F. D. Haynes Male Choir. I know you are saying, “I did not know Hardy could sing.” Yes I could sing and was pretty good according to those who heard me. However, on occasion I would forget the lyrics and Bettye would just let me talk while she played until the words came to me. People in the audience would think we had practiced the song that way. Thank God I am a good storyteller and would not panic when that would happen.
Now Bettye was more than a musical director to me because we were neighbors and she was also an employee in the school district where I was a classified employee personnel commissioner and school board member, plus her mother loved to hear me sing.
Now Judy and I had a special kinship, we were born on the same day and year with the same last name. Judy was the choir director for three of our four children: Regina, Paulette and Renee. I dug into my photo archives and found some pictures of Bettye and some of the kids singing in the choir that Judy directed.
I remember Bettye and Judy conducting musical workshops and concerts and putting on the annual Thanksgiving Musical Workshop, I located an article from November 24,1979 of them bringing in musician genius Carl Jackson from Denver Colorado. The church would be packed with people swaying from the variety of music presented from the combined choirs of St. Paul AME Church.
According to their official biographies: Bettye started playing for church choirs at a very early age. She had a wonderful gift for music, especially gospel music, and used it to its fullest for 50 years. Her musical abilities allowed her to use her talents as Church Musician at St Paul AME from 1969-1999. Judy began playing for the church in 1969 as well and her love of children led her to direct and play for the Youth and Jewel Choirs. She was instrumental in the formation of the Annual Children’s Christmas Production for 20 years. She played for and directed several choirs: The Combined Choir, The Wings of Grace, and the St. Paul Ensemble and, like Bettye, was always available when asked to play for any special occasion.
They have both retired from their work with the various choirs, but their musical legacies remain a cherished part of the church’s history.