Foundations

The Early Years

I was born on February 7, 1957, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Elmore (George) Sanders and Mary Elizabeth Kerr Sanders (both deceased). I was the second of two children. When I was about two months old, my family (Mom, Dad and my brother, Mark Douglas Sanders, c. 1955- 2008), moved to Twinsburg, OH. My mother told me that they moved because one day she sat me on the kitchen table and a rat abruptly joined me!

Twinsburg was really rural…ie – “country!” Like people had cows and chickens and gardens. But there we were, living in a make-shift house with my Dad doing odds and ends to make it habitable. Unfortunately, I never knew my father. It seems he had a rather difficult life. He left his home in Birmingham, AL, after some “legal” challenges, and came north (met my mother and settled down), but somewhere along the way contracted tuberculosis. When I was seven months old, he died. From then on, it was Mom, my brother and me.

My mother loved music. Our home was often filled with the sounds of her singing and playing our old piano, although many of the keys had gotten stuck and didn’t work; but she found enough that did to make glorious music! Gospel was her passion, and the genre was in its heyday! She also served as church pianist and sang with the choir.

Our church, Mt. Olive Baptist Church, was literally in our back yard. Mt. Olive was very traditional. It was the largest and most prestigious in our house of worship in our small community. It accommodated about 150 people—which seemed huge at the time! Several of my Mt. Olive recollections were formative: the pastor’s fervent preaching; the choir’s impassioned swaying, clapping and singing (which often incited “shouting” throughout the congregation); the ushers in their white uniforms; the old deacons who “lined” hymns during “devotion.” These childhood memories became the bedrock of my life.

At the age of four, I began playing piano by ear. By now, my mom had started on the first of three LPs of Gospel songs and hymns that she would complete. She became my biggest inspiration and my first piano teacher.

I quickly exhausted my mother’s technical knowledge of the piano, and at age six, started formal lessons with Mrs. Cynthia Blaylock. A year later, I began serving as church pianist for a small Baptist Church in the community (Twinsburg Heights Township); I also began taking lessons from a more established teacher, Mrs. Gertrude Walton. Somehow, music became my world. It was my safe and happy place. It cushioned me from the harsh realities of growing up with very meager finances in a single-parent home. Music was my refuge when both of my grandparents who I was very close to died (I was 9 and 10 respectively). By the time I was 12, my musical palate was quite extensive. I was conquering Bach, Beethoven and Brahms on the classical side and playing the songs of Rev. James Cleveland, Rev. Charles Nicks and Rev. Bill Sawyer at church.

At 13, I began writing Gospel songs, and soon formed a community Gospel ensemble. Gathering a group of talented singers in my little township was nearly impossible, so I opted for the “willing” since the “able” weren’t to be found. Consequently, I spent most of my time trying to urge the group members to sing on pitch. They were not very dedicated either—sports and partying often outranked rehearsals. Even so, I enjoyed the opportunity to teach songs and do music with my group!

I graduated from R. B. Chamberlin High in June of 1974. That fall, I enrolled in the music education program at Bowling Green State University where my brother was also attending. Upon my arrival to the campus, to my surprise, I was appointed director of the renowned BGSU Gospel Choir. In that role, I learned a lot about leadership; one of the main lessons was accountability and responsible for planning and budgeting.

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