Sunday, July 27, 2008

Remembering Rev. Lawrence C. Roberts

Rev. Lawrence C. Roberts, known for his important roles as record producer for Savoy Records at its creative peak and for serving as the pastor of the renowned First Baptist Church of Nutley, New Jersey, finished his earthly course on July 14, 2008 in his Stone Mountain, Georgia residence at the age of 77.

While Roberts never inherited the majesty of the artists he worked with, his importance to the world of gospel music is nostalgic in all of its infinite glory. While serving as pastor and developing the First Baptist Church into one of the popular churches in the city of Nutley, Roberts went on to help the Newark-based Savoy Records become one of the fastest growing and most successful record companies in gospel music. He also made history for being one of the first black record producers of a major U.S. recording company. The Savoy label during its glory years housed some of the greatest talent in all of gospel music history including the Angelic Gospel Singers, the Roberta Martin Singers, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, Albertina Walker & the Caravans and Rev. James Cleveland.

In 1960, Roberts decided to experiment with live recordings on Rev. James Cleveland, one of the label’s hit makers, and made a momentous decision to tape the project at First Baptist. With a young Billy Preston on organ, the album gained major attention and started a series of albums featuring the famed Angelic Choir (of First Baptist Church). The historic Peace Be Still LP, also known as Volume III, broke national ground and became an instant best-seller while also paving the way for gospel music’s bright future using the live recordings format. Roberts, a gifted baritone and choir director, produced a number of groundbreaking hits for Cleveland including “I Stood On The Banks of Jordan,” “Life Can Be Beautiful,” “No Cross, No Crown,” “I Had a Talk with God” and “My God Can Do Anything.” Roberts won two Grammy Awards and continued to pastor First Baptist Church for thirty-six years until his retirement in 1995.

Roberts made a guest appearance on the Gospel Legends CD/DVD super compilation, released on Malaco Records in 2006. The label has also announced that they will be releasing his final contribution to the historic music label entitled “Bridging the Past, Blessing the Present in Song.”

Roberts is survived by his wife, Delores, a renowned singer in her own right who Roberts credited with inspiring him to pursue his gospel career. He also is survived by three children, a son, Derrick Roberts, and two daughters, Vanessa Walker and Renee Whitney.

His funeral services took place on July 19 at Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia and was well attended by hundreds of mourners including gospel giants Dorothy Norwood, Rev. Richard “Mr. Clean” White, GMWA chairman Rev. Albert Jamison and present-day Savoy president Rev. Milton Biggham.

Below I have enclosed a special video tribute from Rev. Lawrence Roberts, taped at the memorial services of the late Rev. James Cleveland in 1991. Years later, the video - with its prolific words and spiritual dynamics - speaks for itself.

Rest in peace, Rev. Roberts. We will see you again.


1 comment:

preacherpaul said...

Rev. Roberts served our church here in Cleveland in the capacity of church overseer. He was not only my pastor, but spiritual father, friend and confidante, we talked at least twice a week. I attribute my success in the ministry due to his inspiring words years ago, saying "Son, if God called you to this work, you can't quit." I miss talking with him and although his voice and presence is stilled in the physical, he yet remains in the spiritual an everlasting inspiration. Sleep on Dad and take your rest - I'll see you soon! Your Son in Cleveland - Elder Paul Carrington.