Joe Walters was blessed with a special gift — the gift of music. And it was something that he shared tirelessly throughout his life.
Following service in World War II, Walters returned to the states from the Pacific and discovered a love for church music. He served as choir director at several local churches, including First Baptist St. Simons and First Methodist in Brunswick, among others.
He was also a part of community singing groups such as New Renaissance, the Messiah chorus, the Coastal Georgia Symphony Chorale and the Golden Isles Community Chorus. He was also a founding members of The Century Men, a world famous singing group that NBC News once dubbed “the finest male chorus in America.”
Music would guide his heart and career, until his passing at the age of 92 on March 6, 2017.
While Walters’ soul may have departed, his memory is anything but. It is alive and well, maintained in the hearts and minds of all of those he touched throughout his career on St. Simons Island. Those that loved him are looking to offer a special tribute to him at 6 p.m. Saturday at First Baptist St. Simons, Rev. Felix Haynes officiating.
The memorial, which was postponed due to family scheduling conflicts, will be filled with music. For Rhonda Hambright, a longtime friend of Walters, there is no tribute that could be more fitting.
“The service on Saturday will include piano and organ duets played by Faith Hamilton-Trent and John Harper, solos and remarks from me and Bill Gardner,” Hambright said.
Scripture readings and remarks will be given Wright Culpepper and a eulogy by Felix Haynes.
“There will also be a favorite choral piece — Jane Marshall’s ‘My Eternal King’ conducted by Michael Jennings with a chorus of singers from the community, congregational singing, a Brahms violin and piano sonata movement played by his daughter Susan and his granddaughter, Cassidy Moore,” she said.
Hambright knows that Walters would appreciate such a send off, considering his talents and love for the local music community.
“His tenor voice was the most natural that I have ever heard. His speaking voice was even in the tenor range, which is why he could still sing in his 90s. I will miss our conversations about music and his gentle ways. He was a true gentleman,” she said.
His longtime friend and fellow Centuryman, Bill Gardner, agrees.
“His tenor voice was lyrically bright but not strained. Singing was an effortless art to Joe and he used it until he was almost 90 singing with the spirit and understanding too! Joe and I sang in the first tenor section of a choir of Ministers of Music known as The CenturyMen and we were roommates for the group’s annual tours,” Gardner recalled.
“Joe was a charter member of the group which began in 1969 and he was regular in attendance for our concerts and recording sessions except for a period of time when he had to take a leave of absence to take care of Ruthie, his wife.”
True to his giving spirit, Walters stepped away from his beloved position in the group when he couldn’t stand to perform. That allowed others to take part.
“In his last concert, Joe somewhat reluctantly was a member of the ‘sitting choir.’ Joe, I think, didn’t want to hold the group back in any way and so he decided to retire from this auditioned group so that someone could fill his spot,” Gardner said.
“Joe gave himself that way to others whether it be his church choirs or community chorus or his splendid tenor voice, he was truly a man for all seasons.”
His family feels the same way. His daughter, Susan Walters, credits her father with inspiring her to pursue music. Today, she is the pianist with the New York City Ballet.
“I’m a musician because of my parents. I know a lot of people on the island that he inspired and great music performed there because of him,” Susan Walters said by phone.
“He was a wonderful father and grandfather. He really deserves this (memorial).”