“Music is My Calling…”
It’s a family affair for gospel musician Roderick B. Brower
By Crissy Neville » Photos by Brandon Williams
I love what I do, and I do what I love — a mantra and work ethic that keeps Sandhills’ gospel musician Roderick B. Brower whistling a happy tune — his whole life long.
“I have been a singer my whole life,” the Richmond County native and Fletcher Chapel United Methodist Church of Hoffman choir director says. “My whole family sang — my mom, dad, sister and me. My parents — Jimmie and Barbara Brower — met in church singing, so music was ingrained in me from the very beginning.”
The chief information officer at Sandhills Community College, Brower’s education and professional background is in business management, not music. His current position is his second stint at Sandhills, having also worked at the college in the late 90s and early 2000s as the system administrator. Earning a bachelor’s of science degree in 2003, Brower’s alma mater is the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Aside from profession, there’s vocation, an essential aspect of Brower’s life. “Music is my calling,” Brower shared. “God-given talent is what I consider my training.”
Add family to the list; a few years ago, upon Brower’s father’s death, he moved his 77-year-old mother in with him into his current Pinehurst home. They attend church together, and his mom still sings and plays the piano and keyboard.
What Brower did not glean from his parents — backup singers for gospel great Shirley Caesar whose career has spanned seven decades — he learned by working his way up the church music ladder. A climb that began even before his birth.
“My mom was pregnant with me when my family was traveling and singing professionally. Then, after I was born, my parents sang with the Fletcher church choir — The United Gospel Singers — and I joined in at age 4 or 5. We sang in different places throughout North and South Carolina; it was nothing for us to do 2 or 3 engagements a weekend. I joined the United Juniors, the youth choir, and began directing that choir as a teen. That grew into vocal coaching, background singing, teaching new music, creating and directing choirs and being called in to get singers ready for special events. You can say it’s in my blood.”
The versatile musician explained his preference for leading choirs and joining their ranks rather than solo singing — something he still does “all the time,” he said — and his pride in training collective voices.
“I pull the very best out of singers,” he shared. “I work with voices; that is my thing.”
And work he has. Aside from his membership in and directorship of The United Gospel Singers — a lifelong pursuit in his circa 1895 church well-known for its gospel music tradition — Brower also founded the Together-N-Unity Choir, a community-based concert group representing several religious denominations from Cumberland, Moore and Richmond counties.
Still active though significantly less so during the pandemic, this musical group travels and performs worship and inspirational music, show tunes, Negro spirituals, light rhythm and blues, jazz, love songs and “whatever fits the situation, but always with an element of the Gospel,” to festivals, workshops, dramatic performances, funerals and more.
Case in Point: Together-N-Unity was the original ensemble, and Brower, the choirmaster, for the Moore County-based play and multi-arts performance, The Bleeding Pines of Turpentine. The drama, performed locally and abroad earlier in the decade, was the precursor to Songs from the Bleeding Pines, an oratorio and current special project of the Arts Council of Moore County.
Brower is a former board member and active supporter of the council. Together-N-Unity routinely participates in the four-day Palustris festival and other Arts Council of Moore County events.
A highlight for Brower’s musical career was taking Together-N-Unity to Georgia several years to the All People’s Gala and Atlanta Martin Luther King commemoration events. Each trip brought meaningful singing engagements, from the MLK March to the State of the Dream Speech at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and even, according to Brower, meeting Coretta Scott King and singing for her family.
A civic enterprise for Brower is the Southern Pines Community Choir, which he serves as vocal coach and director. “We (the SPCC) provide all the music for the public gatherings that happen within the local Black communities,” he said. “Those include MLK Jr. Day recognitions, Juneteenth Day and more.”
Inner-Faith Ministries is the nonprofit umbrella under which Brower pulls his choirs — collectively 50 odd voices, six to eight accompanists and other collaborators he describes as “brilliant musicians who help me bring my thoughts and visions of music to life” whether through the performance of other people’s work or original pieces — another skill in his wheelhouse.
COVID-19 dashed his hopes for a large-scale showcase of this talent in recent times, but plans are in the works, possibly for 2022.
And while unique choirs are Brower’s vessel, gospel music is the common content of each.
Brower’s music aesthetic is contemporary gospel with jazz undertones, influenced by religious and secular artists alike, from James Cleveland and Richard Smallwood to Aretha Franklin and Lalah Hathway, to name a few.
His interpretation of gospel music is not as important as its message, he said.
“Gospel music has been a source of faith and strength my whole life. It is telling the story of the spiritual experience of God, so anytime I open up my mouth, I convey what God, Christ, my salvation and spirituality means to me through song.”