By Joi Thomas, Special to the AFRO
On July 19, the Baltimore church and gospel community lost an icon with the death of Thomas “Tommy” Randall Roberts, Sr. at the age of 72.
Roberts, born October 10, 1945, attended Dunbar High School and pursued post graduate studies at Morgan State University and what was then known as the Community College of Baltimore (now Baltimore City Community College). Known for his melodious voice, Roberts was a founding member of The Gospel Leaders, a group famous throughout the gospel music industry. In 1967, he played a pivotal role in forming the Maryland chapter of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.
Roberts shared the stage with many notable gospel artists including Rev. James Cleveland, Myrna Summers, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Caesar, Keith Pringle, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Edwin and Walter Hawkins, and many others. Scores of singers, musicians, pastors, family members and friends gathered at The Church of the Redeemed of the Lord on July 28 to say their final goodbyes. Singers from all over the city formed a mass choir to pay tribute to Roberts’ musical legacy.
“To me he was a Baltimore legend, a humble man of God, a true family friend,” said Randy Scroggins, co-founder of the Men in Worship Citywide Male Choir, and a member of the Gospel Leaders.
“In the early 90’s, I remember being asked to join the newly formulated Tommy Roberts singers, attending rehearsals at his new studio on 25th street. The group was excited and proud of his accomplishments,” said Dianne Cupid, former member of the Tommy Roberts Singers.
“In working with Tommy and the Gospel Leaders (as their musician), I had an opportunity to play at many cities on the East Coast and Midwest. He encouraged me to do my best,” said musician Howard “Stubby” Smith. “He was a great supporter in my music ministry. He introduced me to recording and produced my choir’s first album “Time is Running Out.” It was always a blessing to accompany him.”
“I met Deacon Tommy Roberts in the early 70’s while playing for the Jones Tabernacle Baptist Church. Such a musical genius,” said James “JD” Alston, minister of music at New Psalmist Baptist Church. “It was his musical gifts that got Baltimore highly recognized through gospel music. He produced several local church choir albums. The man with the golden voice will be greatly missed.”
Roberts’ son, Thomas (Randy) R. Roberts, Jr., shared fond memories of his father. “One of my favorite memories of my Dad and myself was when I had the opportunity to play drums for him at the Civic Center (now the Royal Farms Arena), when he shared the stage with my Godfather James Cleveland [who was known as the King of Gospel Music]. That was major for me as a kid to be on such a major stage with them,” said Roberts, Jr. “My dad was very influential in my music ministry and career. I would watch him as a child and young man rehearse with his all male group or choir and say to myself, ‘I wanna do that and be just like my Dad.’”
Roberts, Jr. saw firsthand the effect his father’s music and ministry had on the city. “My dad’s music had an impact on the Baltimore community early on. Church choirs and such would sing his music on Sunday mornings. My Dad was also a producer, songwriter and arranger for various artist near and far,” said Roberts, Jr.
“He was a very strong, spiritual man who loved serving his community and local church. He had a heart for helping others. His legacy is music, entrepreneurship and power.”