“Music in church should exalt, uplift, and convict.”
~Frederick Waggoner, Charter member of Knoxville Handel Society
Frederick, a bass and charter member of the Knoxville Handel Society, was certainly on point when he predicted that the above quote would set the theme for our interview. His respect and passion for sacred choral music was evident.
Frederick spent the first third of our time together telling me about many of the people who have mentored and supported him. He even spelled each name in hopes that I would mention them all. The middle of the interview was me coaxing him to please talk about his own studies, awards and career goals. He could not stay on that topic long before he verged into contemplating which educational and professional paths would offer him the greatest potential to give back to the younger generations in his local community.
For as long as he can remember, Frederick has been singing. He simply describes his voice as ” big.” As a tiny child, he enjoyed duplicating operatic music that he heard on PBS television. Frederick grew up in Payne Avenue Missionary Baptist Church. Their director of music, Murphy Strong, was the first to recognize and nurture Frederick’s talent. Frederick sang his first solo when he was six years old. He soon was touring with a gospel group. At age ten, he was invited into the adult chancel choir at his church to sing tenor. Mr. Strong was the first to recognize that Frederick has a voice that is more suited for classical than for gospel music.
When he graduated from high school, he accepted a job with the City of Knoxville and never gave a thought to pursuing more education or to singing anywhere other than in church. He did not have the most rudimentary musical education and his focus was supporting himself financially.
The choir director of Fountain City Presbyterian Church, Bob Eubanks, asked him to sing a solo for a funeral in 2014. This was the catalyst for Frederick’s foray into classical music. In 2015 Frederick was visiting First Baptist Church Knoxville when the congregation sang one of his favorite hymns. Since he was seated in the back balcony, he relaxed and sang full voice. To his shock, Wendell Boertje, the choir director, found him after the service and persuasively encouraged him to immediately join the choir. Frederick was hesitant, not only because he could not sight read, but also because he knew that he had no experience blending his massive voice with a group. He explained, “When you sing gospel, you can sing how you feel, it’s not just note-for- note.” Nonetheless, Frederick was at the next rehearsal and his relationship with Dr. Boertje and First Baptist Church continues to this day.
Frederick began to be recognized due, in part, to the fact that the worship services of First Baptist Church are televised. The first time he sang a solo, he received a standing ovation. People he did not know called the church and asked him to sing at funerals. He began to realize that sharing his voice could be a ministry.
At age 29 Frederick quit his job and enrolled in Carson-Newman University in a vocal track. It has been a struggle in every sense, even with exceedingly generous financial support from a benefactor at First Baptist Church. Frederick is grateful for all the teachers and professors and friends who patiently mentored him through sight-reading and ear training. Today, while managing his studies, Frederick is a paid section leader in the choir at First Presbyterian Church, a charter member of Knoxville Handel Society, and a soloist for major productions at Carson Newman University and in Knoxville operas. In both his freshman and junior years, he won the regional competition of National Association of Teachers of Singing.
As he contemplates his graduation from Carson Newman University this December, Frederick wonders about his future. It is evident that he has two powerful passions. The first is choral church music. His second motivation is to improve the futures of the young people in his neighborhood in East Knoxville. He sees their talent and their energy, and he yearns to provide them with the same encouragement that he has so gratefully received. Frederick aspires to fulfill the challenge offered by Maya Angelou, ” When you learn, teach, when you get, give.”
Whatever the future holds, it is evident that Frederick has the talent and dedication to make a powerful impact.