Shirley Blackwell to be remembered
The 11 a.m. service will honor the contributions that Blackwell made to the church.
The special music will be rendered by the church’s resident musical artists from the Hayes School of Music at Appalachian State University. Church choir director Amy Young and a guest instrumentalist will also provide music.
At 2 p.m., the Blackwell family will hold a memorial service in the church that will feature messages by family and friends and music will be performed by a choir composed of former singers of the Farm House Inn and Restaurant.
The public is invited to attend either or both of the services.
Blackwell provided musicians to Methodist church for 50 years
By HAL WARLICK
In 1958, in the heat of the summer, Shirley Blackwell was called to the front of the Farm House.
She was surprised to see a distinguished man dressed in a three-piece suit on such a hot day.
The gentleman was Dr. H.E. Spence, the resident minister of Blowing Rock Methodist Church. He had heard of the distinguished singers there and asked if she would send some over to the church asked if she would send some over to the church once a month for him to use in the Sunday service.
Consequently, in 1958 Blackwell sent singers to the church three times to assist the minister.
Spence wrote liturgies, and sometimes he would request a soloist to sing in the middle of the liturgy.
On other Sundays, he wanted a duet to sing at the end of the sermon.
At the time, the Farm House only had six to eight singers.
These college students sang around Blowing Rock in the various churches and hustled back to the Farm House to work Sunday lunch for the huge crowds that waited in long lines to be admitted.
There was no payment from the Blowing Rock Methodist Church to the students.
They were willing to sing as part of their training and their job at the Farm House.
Blackwell would rehearse the singers at the Farm House and then send them off.
One of the few jobs singers could get was a church job, and Blackwell sent singers off to the Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Christian Science churches in Blowing Rock and the Lutheran church in Boone for years.
In 1970, Blackwell started sending a quartet every Sunday to the Blowing Rock Methodist Church, and the singers were paid a very small stipend for the first time.
For special services, she would attend with the singers and direct them. Other Sundays, she had to remain at the Farm House to get lunch plans in motion.
To say that the caliber of music performed in the church was high would be an understatement.
Many of the singers from the Farm House were sacred music majors from the best programs in the Southeast.
Words cannot adequately express the church’s gratitude to Shirley Blackwell for the common thread her music has provided.
From the time she was a new bride at the age of 25, to the last summer of her life she prepared students and special guests to render quality music for the summer worship services.
Her garage was the church music library and the center of musical planning. She was a loyal and happy worker for all of the church’s pastors and resident ministers whose names reside on the roster board on the inside wall of the sanctuary.
In the early years of the arrangement with the church, when Ethel Henley ceased playing the organ, Blackwell would send an organist from the Farm House each Sunday to play for the hymn sing and the worship service.
So devoted was Blackwell to the Blowing Rock Methodist Church that when she interviewed student applicants, she would always hire two instrumentalists so that she could always on Sundays be able to leave one at the Farm House and send the other to the church.
Organizing, rehearsing and teaching college singers from many prominent universities to come to the church and work with some of the Southeast’s most noted and successful preachers was quite an accomplishment. Standards were high for these ministers who came from some of the “highest and best” churches and universities in America.
Blackwell taught the students not only music, but poise, respect and understanding of people who transcended the age differences between the choir and the congregation and its ministers.
When the Farm House closed suddenly in 1997, Blackwell obviously no longer had the singers to draw upon. Yet she continued the commitment to the church by remaining its music director.
Using a selected group of music majors from Appalachian State University, supplemented on special occasions by guest appearances from alums from the former Farm House singers, the legacy of the church and its beautiful music continued from generation to generation.
Editor’s note. This story is condensed and revised with permission from “A History of Blowing Rock Methodist Church” by Hal Warlick, resident minister.