The Rev. Derrick E. Roberts, newly elected chairman of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, envisions Toledo as the "home base" of gospel music in the years ahead.
A retired Toledo Public Schools administrator and director of the Toledo Interfaith Mass Choir, Mr. Roberts will be consecrated and installed as chairman of the board of the national gospel organization tonight at Indiana Avenue Baptist Church.
He will become the first Toledoan to serve as chairman of the NCGCC, which was founded in 1933 by legendary songwriter and choir director Thomas A. Dorsey, widely known as "the Father of Gospel Music."
"It's a tremendous opportunity because Toledo isn't always nationally recognized for positive things," Mr. Roberts said. "This is the most prestigious gospel group and the original foundation of gospel music, and it brings a foundation to Toledo because we will now be the home base to help gospel music go to the next dimension."
The NCGCC, which represents 43 chapters of gospel choirs and choruses with thousands of members in 20 states, promotes musical training and family participation as well as the nurturing of gospel singers, musicians, and directors.
Mr. Roberts, 58, has been involved with the national organization since it held its annual convention in Toledo in 1989. He founded and directed the 600-voice Toledo Mass Choir for the convention and has been a vice president of and convention planner for the national group.
He also founded the nationally known Toledo Interfaith Mass Choir, a 125-voice choir that started in 2002 for the city's Martin Luther King, Jr., celebration.
The office of chairman of the board of the NCGCC is a permanent appointment, with honoraria awarded for travel and expenses but no salary, Mr. Roberts said.
The national body has been a model of stability over its 77-year history, with just two presidents serving during that time: the founder, Mr. Dorsey, who died at age 96 in 1993, and its current president, Bishop Kenneth Moales of Bridgeport, Conn., who will preside at tonight's installation service.
As chairman, Mr. Roberts said he wants to use his training in music and administration to pro-mote the NCGCC nationally and internationally.
"Prayerfully, that is my goal: to inspire and empower, and to create a new image. We're proud of our past, and we're excited about our future."
He also seeks to make the NCGCC a household word, as recognizable as the NAACP.
Mr. Roberts, who is married and the father of two children, started playing piano at age 9. He studied at Bowling Green State University, receiving a bachelor's degree in music - majoring in vocal training and minoring in piano - and the University of Toledo, where he received a master's degree in supervision and administration.
He served as music director and choir director at several Toledo churches, including Indiana Avenue Baptist where his father, the Rev. John E. Roberts, has been pastor for 45 years.
"I like to bring the black experience, the African-American experience, to the music," he said. "I just like to give it a twist, to do beautiful music and at the same time inspire people to think more about God."
An artist with a flair for style - one of his hobbies is interior decorating - Mr. Roberts said church and gospel music had always been secondary to his role as an educator during his 31 1/2 years with TPS. He taught music, supervised teaching interns, and, for 16 1/2 years, was principal of Elmhurst Elementary School.
Geri Scrutchins, who has been singing with the choir since its founding in 1989 and is choir secretary, said Mr. Roberts is a perfectionist who demands a lot from his singers.
"But if you just listen and follow him, he knows the direction he's going in. He's a perfectionist, but he's also very spiritual and very dedicated to what he does. Sometimes I don't think he even realizes the anointing that the Lord has blessed him with."
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