Thomas Benjamin Turner, 81, gospel singer


Thomas Benjamin Turner, who for more than 50 years sang the sweet gospel music in churches in Baltimore and throughout the East Coast, died Saturday at the hospice at Mercy Medical Center.

A West Baltimore resident, Mr. Turner, 81, a tenor, sang in solo concerts and with many groups over the years, including White's Male Chorus of Baltimore, one of the area's noted gospel groups.

"He had a real good singing voice," said his daughter, Vera M. Boardley of Baltimore. "As a Christian, he had a talent for singing and devoted his time to singing."

In addition to singing with the White's Male Chorus, Mr. Turner sang with gospel groups the Dixielanders of Maryland, the Fairfield Four and the Modernaires.

Mr. Turner sang hymns and anthems, and those who heard him said his voice was always full, rich and easily recognizable. With equal zest, he sang upbeat music and slow heart-rending tunes.

One of his favorite and more memorable renditions was of "Let Mount Zion Rejoice," family members said.

"It was a treat when we heard that he was coming to sing," said Melvin O. Adams, a friend who heard Mr. Turner sing many times in Baltimore-area churches. "Whether he sang alone or with a group, or with or without music, he was always good."

Born and raised in Baltimore, Mr. Turner graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in the 1930s and worked as a laborer at the old Fairfield Yards of Bethlehem Steel and later worked in construction.

From the 1940s until 1980, he was a chauffeur for an oil delivery company.

He began singing in the 1930s, and stopped about three years ago.

"He wasn't a rowdy singer, he was a professional singer, a concert singer," said Veronica Price, who for many years accompanied White's Male Chorus on piano. "He knew how to sing and sang well."

In addition to his singing, Mr. Turner was known for giving rides to senior citizens and the disabled near his West Baltimore home. Whether they paid him or not was optional.

"He was just happy to help people," his daughter said.

He was a lifelong member of New Shiloh Baptist Church, 2100 N. Monroe St., and part of the Senior Choir No. 1.

Services are scheduled at the church for 11 a.m. today.

Mr. Turner married the former Sadie Augustus Garrison in 1935; she died in 1977. He later married Elinor Ennis.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by five sons, Holland Turner, Alexander Turner and Christopher Turner, all of Baltimore, and Clinton Turner and Theodore Turner, both of Woodlawn; two other daughters, Lorraine T. Kellum and Martina R. Williams, both of Woodlawn; two brothers, John A. Turner and Charles H. Turner, both of Baltimore; four sisters, A. Alverta Chambers, Minerva A. Turner and Margaret R. Scott, all of Baltimore, and Blanche E. Cooper of San Francisco; 14 grandchildren; 18 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 6/19/98

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