For more than 70 years, organist has set tone for Second Baptist Church
FORD CITY — Every Sunday, the walls of Second Baptist Church reverberate with the lively, joyful sounds of Gospel music, booming out from the church's organ. For the past 72 years, the skillful fingers of Juanita Carr have directed the organ's keys.
Second Baptist pastor the Rev. Kent J. Commodore said Carr became the church's organist at age 11. Carr, now 83, said she remembers the first song she ever played in the church, “Near the Cross.”
Carr said that her long history with the church involves many of her family members, all talented musicians themselves.
“My father, Frank Tolliver, was a saxophone player. He died, however, when he was in his 20s, so I never really knew him. My mother, Catherine, was remarried to Homer Allenswood. He was a very good Christian man and we all just regarded him as our father. Along with music, church was a very important part of our lives. We all went to church twice on Sunday, prayer meetings on Wednesday and a church youth group on Friday. Back then the church was known as Morton Chapel, named after the first pastor who built it. Later it became Second Baptist.”
Carr said she is one of eight children, five boys and three girls. All of her siblings were noted for their singing ability, she added. Her brother Frank, formerly a teacher at Lenape Elementary, was a songwriter and manager of a band and singing group, The Versatiles, made up of Carr's children. Carr's daughter, Kitt, is a noted jazz singer and recently was invited to perform at the Moscow International Jazz Festival. Her son Stanley is an accomplished organist, and like his mother, is self-taught.
About the same time she became church organist, Carr said, she and two of her sisters, June and Deloris, formed a Gospel trio. A short time later, they added a fourth member, Ronnie-Jean Pendleton, and were known as the Four Roses Quartet.
In addition to playing the organ, Carr is church trustee, a member of the finance and fundraising committee. She was the Youth Choir director.
Commodore said that Carr was on the church's Pulpit Committee.
“When I was called to the church about six years ago,” he said, “she was on the Pulpit Committee. Members of the committee address a lot of questions to a prospective candidate for a pastor or deacon. But I remember her question quite well. She simply asked me what direction I wanted her to go as far as music was concerned. After I answered, she said, ‘OK, that's the way we'll go.' She was and is very supportive of the church. You couldn't hope for a more loyal or hardworking member. By the way, she is also our kitchen manager. I've never known of anyone who has been a church organist and served a church in so many ways for 72 years.”
When it comes to serving the needs of a church, Carr said her motto is: “Come to serve, not to be served.” From her earliest recollections, Carr said that a Christian lifestyle was an integral part of family life.
“The church and serving Christ is my life,” she said. “We were raised with a few simple lessons, ‘Let your word be your bond' and ‘Treat people right and be kind.' I had six children, five boys and a girl. One son died in Vietnam. I have 33 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They were all taught those same lessons. I am thankful that the Lord has blessed us with the talents we have and taught us to live right.”
Tom Mitchell is a Leader Times correspondent.