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Choral concert honors longtime organist

Stacy M. Brown | 2/20/2015, 6 a.m.
James Spencer Hammond has always been the kind of person that simply wants to do his job well. Attention has ...
J. Spencer Hammond at the organ at Douglas Memorial Community Church. A concert honoring longtime Douglas Memorial Community Church music director, J. Spencer Hammond will be held on Sunday, February 22, 2015 at 3 p.m. at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church located at 1320 Park Avenue in Baltimore City. Brown Memorial’s Chancel Choir will sing. For tickets to this Tiffany Series event, call 410-523-1542. (Courtesy Photo/Douglas Memorial Community Church)

— James Spencer Hammond has always been the kind of person that simply wants to do his job well. Attention has never been high on his list of wants and, those who know him, say it’s difficult to find someone more humble.

So, when officials approached Hammond about a special concert in his honor, it wasn’t much of a surprise that he balked.

“I said, no, no. They really had to twist my arm,” said Hammond, a longtime organist and choir director who will be honored at a choral concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, February 22, 2015.

The concert will be held at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in the Bolton Hill section of Baltimore.

The program will include classical choral works and spirituals featuring the works of African American composers R. Nathaniel Dett, Undine Smith Moore, Wendell Whalum and Robert L. Morris.

The program will also include selections from Johannes Brahm’s “A German Requiem,” and Felix Mendelssohn’s “St. Paul,” as well as works by classical legends Gabriel Faure and Cesar Franck, both French composers.

“I studied music and I love music,” said Hammond, who served as minister of music at Baltimore’s Douglas Memorial Community Church under Rev. Marion Bascom for nearly 40 years.

“This is why I’m doing this, why I accepted this. It’s because of Rev. Bascom because he brought me here way back in the 1959,” Hammond said. “I went to see him when he came down to Florida where I was at the time and he said how would you like to come to Baltimore and work in my church? Because of him, I have such wonderful memories.”

Hammond’s choirs have been widely celebrated, and his men’s choir performed at the White House for President Richard Nixon. They also performed at various other institutions including at the John F. Kennedy Center and at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

“We were able to accomplish a lot and it has always been fun,” he said.

With degrees from Florida A&M and Northwestern Universities, Hammond has also been lauded as an educator, having taught elementary school in the Baltimore City Public School District for 31 years.

Hammond also taught the history of African American music for several years at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

He retired from Douglas Memorial Community Church in 2002, but still conducts a community choir, the Douglas Singers, and he still provides private piano lessons and remains active with the Hymn Society and the Organ Historical Society.

“I have to say that Rev. Bascom is the only way you can get me to accept such an honor that they are doing for me, but I know that it’s going to be enjoyable,” Hammond said.

The performance will include former members of Hammond’s choirs at Douglas Memorial Community Church who will join Brown Memorial’s Chancel Choir in singing the concert’s concluding work, Harry T. Burleigh’s “My Lord, What a Mornin,” which Hammond himself will conduct.

The event also will feature short reminiscences by friends and admirers, and will be followed by a free reception.

“The ending should be great,” he said. “We will sing a piece that Bascom loved so much and it’ll give me great pleasure to conduct it.”

Tickets are $15 for general admission and $5 for students. They can be purchased at the door or at www.browndowntown.org. In case of snow, organizers say the show will take place on March 1, 2015.