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Alma Blackmon (1921-2009)


Born on July 25, 1921, in Washington, D.C., Alma Montgomery was the younger of two daughters. A precocious child, she was able to read music and play the piano at age 5, and at age 10 began serving as organist for the First Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C. When her parents moved to Ephesus Church (eventually Dupont Park Church), she became involved in the music program there and eventually became director of the choir. They sang as the guest choir with the National Symphony Orchestra in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., and also appeared at the Washington Cathedral.  In 1960 the Dupont Park Church Choir recorded the album "Hallelujah!"

Although Alma’s undergraduate and master's degrees are in Early Childhood Education, with minors in English, she was a sought after musician in the D.C. area.. Her work with the Ephesus Church choir led to opportunities to assist Robert Shaw and Howard Mitchell in National Symphony Orchestra presentations. For 12 years she also accompanied the Washington Community Chorus and assisted its conductor, Dr. Warner Lawson, dean of Howard University School of Music.

Alma studied with piano and voice teachers in the Washington, taking piano lessons at Howard University with Cecil Cohen and Thomas Kerr and voice lessons with Paul Hume, noted music critic for the Washington Post, and with Frederick Wilkerson.  She sang as soprano soloist in Constitution Hall, at the White House for President Truman, and as an accompanist at Town Hall in New York.

Alma was equally successful in the field of education. She served 30 years with the Washington, D.C. public schools in the area of early childhood education. She was an exceptional kindergarten teacher at a demonstration school for many years before eventually being promoted to the position of supervisor of early childhood education for the school system.

In 1949 Alma married Henry Blackmon, a baritone soloist who went on to have a successful career in Europe.  In 1963 they adopted Henry’s young niece, Brenda, after her mother died. Alma survived two bouts with cancer, one in 1948 at the age of 26 and the other in 1972 undergoing radical surgery.

The following year she accepted an invitation from Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama to teach in the English department. On her second day on campus the chair of the Music Department asked her to revive the college concert and touring choir, The Aeolians. Although hesitant because of the lingering effects of the surgery, she consented. 

Her first choir consisted mostly of freshmen, but by the end of the year they had established a following and were proving their worth in promoting the school and recruiting students. Alma was reassigned from the English department to the Music department and would conduct the Aeolians and the College Choir, teach classes in diction and music theory, and give lessons in voice and piano. 

During the Oakwood years, she served a five-year appointment to the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Music Committee, directed choirs at the 1980 and 1985 General Conference sessions, and served on the committee that produced the 1985 church hymnal, contributing four arrangements, including “Give Me Jesus” and “This Little Light of Mine.”

These activities and her years of service in Adventist Church music were acknowledged in 1988 when she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree by Andrews University. 

During her 12 years of leadership Alma became known as “Ma” to her choir members. The Aeolians performed in 32 of the 50 states as well as in Canada, England, Romania, Scotland, Wales, the Bahamas, and the Virgin Islands; in all, more than 230 concerts.  They made five recordings from 1974 to 1983, with the first album selling more than 10,000 copies. Later compilation and reunion recordings of the Aeolians have been well received.

As a result of their trip to Romania in 1981 she was invited by Friendship Ambassadors to travel to Russia that year to join in discussions with Russian officials about a concert exchange program with the Soviets. The success of her contributions in furthering better relations with foreign countries led to her receiving a Doctor of Humane Letters from Atlantic Union College in 1990. 

Alma retired from Oakwood College in 1985 and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to be with her family. An Aeolian Alumni Chapter was formed, which has sponsored several reunion concerts. The most recent was held in Atlanta in February 2006 at the Cathedral at Chapel Hill. Billed as Alma’s “farewell concert,” it was an evening filled with music sung by 110 former Aeolian members and guest artists. Alma also received numerous moving tributes for her work with the Aeolians and for the important role she has played in her students' lives.

Alma was diagnosed with cancer, again, in April 2009 and lost her battle with the disease on June 11.  She is survived by her daughter, Brenda, her son-in-law Keith, her two granddaughters, Kristen and Kandis, and a host of former choir members and students who call her “Ma.”

-International Adventist Musicians Association, June 11, 2009