Vernon left us much too young. I met a lot of people in my junior college choir. Many of them were dedicated christians. It was kind of a shock to me when I got to the university and found singers who were only rarely people of faith. There, most of the singers were handpicked for the school, though anyone could try out for the concert choir. I suspect there was often a bit of ego involved. But in junior college, most of us were singing for the glory of God and our own love of music.
Now Vernon was a big black guy, with the world’s most disarming smile. I truly believe he hadn’t an enemy in the world, because he could charm them right into being his friend. Everyone liked Vernon. Besides being in choir, he also led the cheerleading squad, though I didn’t attend the games, so I never saw him in action. I was told he was high energy, and constantly in motion. Outside of school, he had his own band, where he played piano and sang. They did gospel performances all over town. Mostly they performed in churches, but I spotted a picture of him at the fair a couple of years ago, from back in the 70s.
I wouldn’t say that I was one of his close friends particularly. But I did work downtown during my 20’s. At that time, Vernon was playing gigs at the Padre hotel, and I ran into him a few times. The first time I just threw my arms around him and gave him a big hug. He was the kind of guy that made you feel like that. I didn’t think that playing in a bar was really the right kind of job for him, but he was also directing a choir wherever he went to church, so it didn’t concern me too much. We were twenty-somethings, working lousy jobs, trying to make ends meet and hoping to find our ways to something better, more suited to us.
After a while, he disappeared, or perhaps I stopped seeing him because my job moved me away from downtown. I’m not sure, but when I ran across him next, he was living in North Carolina. He was called Elder, and ran the music program where he went to church. And he had written a song that was picked for a special performance in Washington D.C. I thought, wow! I really know a celebrity, or at least I knew him way back when. I sent a congratulatory e-mail, which didn’t rate a reply.
And now, just 4 years later, he’s gone. The world has lost a talented musician. It has also lost someone who spread love wherever he went. He was one who truly demonstrated the love that Christians were once known for showing to the world. He will surely be missed!