Cecil G. Smith (1935-2020)

  • Eager to play: Cecil Smith was the organist at St Paul AME Church (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Eager to play: Cecil Smith was the organist at St Paul AME Church (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Cecil G. Smith, a lifelong musician whose name became synonymous with the organ at St Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, has died at 85.

On Sunday he was given a send-off by the congregation of the Hamilton church, where he had also led the choir.

Mr Smith, who grew up on Camp Hill, Warwick, discovered his love of music as a child playing his grandmother’s organ.

He begged his parents for piano lessons and cajoled his father, Christopher, also a church organist, into teaching him how to play the notoriously difficult instrument.

Mr Smith told The Royal Gazette in 2015: “I pestered him so much about it, he finally relented.

“One Sunday, we were at church and my father was about to play a hymn that I thought I could play. I was so eager, I nudged him right off the organ bench. I wasn’t yet 10.”

His playing enthralled the congregation.

Mr Smith obtained his degree in musical education from Wilberforce University in Ohio, an institution closely linked to the AME church.

He completed a master’s degree at Michigan State University.

In 1961, he started assisting the late Doris Corbin on the organ at St Paul.

He went on to lead numerous choirs, including the Police Male Voice Choir, which performed at a host of venues and hotels, and even sang before the Queen.

Mr Smith recalled the group help to put the community at ease during the widespread unrest in the riots of 1977.

He said: “The choir members, all of them policemen, were respected and people loved hearing them sing.

“They made a name for themselves. It was something to smooth over the troubled waters and quell some of the tension.”

The choir also performed for audiences overseas.

In 1980, Mr Smith succeeded Ms Corbin at the church organ but was happy to step in at other churches when his talents were required.

He also became minister of music for St Paul.

Although he taught organ-playing, he acknowledged that few young people set out to master the instrument these days.

But he taught generations of Bermudians as a music teacher at Sandys Secondary School, where his career spanned 32 years.

In 1979, he was appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his contribution to the police choir.

He was among those singled out by the Government for Heritage Month in 1993 for his contributions to the arts.

He was also given a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 by the Bermuda Arts Council.

Mr Smith and his late wife, Avery, have one daughter, Renée Lewis.

At Sunday’s service, the Reverend Nicholas Tweed informed the congregation of Mr Smith’s passing that morning.

Mr Tweed said that Mr Smith had “been battling health issues for some time”.

He added: “You can’t talk about the pipe organ without talking about the legendary Cecil Smith.”

He said Mr Smith’s playing left listeners “not touched, but shaken” and said that he had left “an indelible imprint” at the church.

Mr Tweed added that there would be a musical tribute to his life and work at an appropriate time.

Cecil George Smith, MBE, St Paul AME organist, was born on January 18, 1935. He died on August 9, aged 85

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Published Aug 12, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 12, 2020 at 7:27 am)

Cecil G. Smith (1935-2020)

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