Charles Ford: Gentleman, scholar

Published 9:32 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2018

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The psalmist urges us to “make a joyful noise,” and no one did that better or with more enthusiasm than Charles Ford.

Mr. Ford, who died in early December, was for many years the minister of music at Main Street Baptist Church, a title that doesn’t begin to describe his talent or his influence in our community.

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A Smithfield native, he graduated from Westside High School, and attended Norfolk State College. A vocalist and talented instrumentalist, Charles built relationships with music professionals throughout Hampton Roads.

In time, though, he came home and directed music at Main Street. There he also reached out in other ways to people in the community, helping with myriad needs of anyone he came into contact with — friends, neighbors and strangers.

We became acquainted nearly three decades ago when the Summer Concert Series was in its early years. We generally have tried to include a night for gospel music during the series, and someone suggested back then that I should talk with Charles Ford, who led a group known as the Men of Music.

Charles immediately embraced the summer series and brought that incredible gospel group to the gazebo stage year after year. They performed familiar songs, and some that no one would have every heard of if it had not been for Charles, who made a study of gospel music roots and was determined to share his knowledge of that wonderful genre.

Smithfield has a reputation for being uniquely blessed when it comes to the arts. And it’s a reputation that’s well deserved. Multiple dance studios, an extraordinary public school music program from elementary through high school, a regionally-acclaimed little theatre, a book club and an arts league that offers everything from painting classes to a variety of music offerings: All of these contribute to the artistic vitality of our community.

But at the heart of the arts experience are people who themselves love the arts and want to share that love. And Charles Ford stood tall among them. And he practiced his art where he practiced his faith, and that makes for a strong pairing.

But Charles Ford’s musical talent doesn’t fully describe him. One of the most overused clichés in our language is “a gentleman and a scholar.” And yet, that is precisely, and seriously, how I would describe Charles Ford. He was indeed a scholar of music, but he was also the epitome of a Christian gentleman — a gentle person whose warmth touched all those around him.

Charles sings with the angels now, and may be leading the choir.