‘More than a song’
BALTIMORE — “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound ...” The…
For more than five joy-filled decades, Dorothy Wells was the soft side of a spiritual dream team that combined faith, family and music to train five generations of voices whose influence echoed far beyond the Harlem Church of Christ.
The founder and director of the Electrifying Easternnaires and widow of R.C. Wells, longtime minister for the New York City congregation, died April 2 of COVID-19. She was 84.
“Dorothy Wells taught me, and so many others like me, how to love, respect, and appreciate music. How to use music to touch people’s lives and souls.”
Born July 7, 1935, in Nashville, Tenn., Dorothy was educated at the Nashville Christian Institute and then Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas, where her mother was dean of women. There she met R.C. Wells, and the couple married May 27, 1953. Dorothy put her pursuit of higher education on pause to raise the couple’s son and two daughters and support her husband’s ministry.
Together the Wellses served Churches of Christ in Okmulgee, Okla., and Pontiac, Mich., before moving to New York City in 1965. There R.C. began a 50-year ministry with the Harlem congregation, and, in 1969, Dorothy organized the Electrifying Easternnaires, a choral group for young people ages 13-25. More than 25 congregations throughout the Northeast have been represented in the group that has traveled to more than 30 states, according to the group’s Facebook page.
As news of Dorothy Wells’ death spread among former members of the Easternnaires, her Facebook page filled with tributes. Singers who loved her offered videos of their own musical tributes, some gathered as a small group in someone’s living room, others in tearful video selfies singing solo tributes to a woman they described as pivotal to their spiritual journeys.
Jarrell El Bandolero Welbon seemed to express the emotions of many others when he posted to her page: “Dorothy Wells taught me, and so many others like me, how to love, respect, and appreciate music. How to use music to touch people’s lives and souls. How music can bring someone out of a dark place in their lives and help them find the light.”
O.J. Shabazz, minister of the Harlem church, extended video condolences to church members and friends of Dorothy Wells throughout the Tri-state region and to her friends and colleagues at the New York City Board of Education where she worked 10 years as a computer associate and data entry supervisor. Shabazz described her as the passion and drive of the internationally acclaimed Electrifying Easternnaires.
Shabazz said by God’s grace the church would eventually have a chance to mourn and console one another, “in the fashion we’re used to. That day will come.”
Eugene Lawton, minister for the Newark Church of Christ in New Jersey, said, “Our brotherhood has suffered a great loss, and her inspiring legacy will touch unborn generations.”
Many of the friends and Easternnaires alumni who posted to Dorothy Wells’ Facebook page and on the Easternnaires’ page were among those who had gathered in January 2019 at the Central Church of Christ in Baltimore to celebrate the group’s 50th anniversary and honor its founder and director.
“This is about 50 years of singing and fellowship where no one was a stranger,” Dorothy Wells said in an interview last year. “The ones from 1969 relate to the ones who just got in in 2019.”
Several hundred singers from all over the U.S. — singers who had been groomed by Dorothy Wells and inspired to get their education and let their light shine — honored her in videos during the celebration.
Related: ‘More than a song’
Related: ‘More than a song’
“It is more than a song. It’s about relationships,” Wells said at the time. “We traveled together. We fly together. We have had losses, and the losses span many years. We do a segment called love the lost, but when we got to that segment, there were no tears. There was clapping because we knew them, and we love them.”
Education was of great importance to Dorothy Wells, who returned to Queens College in her 60s to work on her degree. She finished her bachelor’s degree in American Studies in 1998. Daughter Stacey Wells Young said the return to college was a big deal for her mother.
The Dorothy Carpenter Wells Scholarship Fund, established for Easternnaire alumni several years ago, continues to honor Wells’ legacy and her commitment to education The fund has grown to $16,000, and friends hope memorial gifts will increase it further.
“When we were growing up, we didn’t fully appreciate the fact that my mother had so many other children, but now that she is older, it is a blessing,” Young told a reporter at the anniversary celebration.
Besides Young, survivors include son Fred Wells and daughter Peggy Wells Autry.
“My mother was doing music ministry before they called it that,” Young said. “I’m just glad that she could see some of the fruit of her labors and that she ran her race well.”
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