She had the vision
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Ruth Esther Hamilton was the youngest of ten children of John Russell and Reacie Hamilton. From her birth until she moved up north, Ruth was a faithful member of her family church, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Atlanta. She attended Atlanta Public Schools and graduated from the historic Booker T. Washington High School.
Ruth moved to Boston shortly after World War II and immediately joined the Charles Street A.M.E. Church under the pastorate of the Rev. O. W. H. Childers. During the early years of her membership, she gave benefit concerts at the church to support its various ministries. Since the beginning of her membership, she’s been very faithful and supportive to her church, and she was always in attendance whenever she was in town or not performing in other houses of worship as a guest soloist. While Ruth usually sat in the back of the nave of Charles Street, she was often shouting “you’ll sing today” or "preach Reverend!"
photo credit: Vivian Taylor
At the close of the worship services, she would always tell her minister, without fail, “pastor, you really pulled the chord today, in fact, you pulled out all the stops!” Ruth frequently blessed her church with generous gifts, always earmarked for special purposes. One of her last special contributions enabled the church to significantly upgrade its audio system. In 1998, Rev. Dr. Gregory G. Groover, Sr. names her as one of the Church Mothers, an honor that she wore proudly and humbly.
While Ruth was steeply Christ-centered, she had a genuinely ecumenical spirit and a deep interfaith stream of conscience. She was a regular “visiting soloist” in numerous churches, including the Cathedral of the Pines (Rindge, New Hampshire), Pleasant Street Congregational Church (Arlington, Mass), and the Village Church (Wellesley, Mass). During the Jewish high days, she served as guest cantor in several synagogues, including the Temple Ohabei Shalom and the Temple Sinai (Brookline, Mass).
Over the fifty years, Ruth has established herself as one of the leading contraltos on the East Coast. She was a cultural institution in the Greater Boston area and she performed on many of the preeminent world stages. Her travels included European tours with the Donnell Patterson Chorale and the New England Spiritual Ensemble. In addition, she has performed as a soloist with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra at Symphony Hall, and she was one of the guest stars of the CMAC’s Annual Gospel tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. Throughout the years, her signature spiritual was “Hold On.”
Ruth performed at countless historic events and she was the recipient of numerous distinguished awards. She sang at the State House in Boston for the inauguration of the Governor and at several memorial services in honor of President John F. Kennedy. She received the Cambridge Peace Commission and Justice Award and the Clorae Evereteze Human Service Award, presented by the Civic Unity Committee of Cambridge in recognition of her contribution to the arts. She has been recognized by City Councilor Ken Reeves, a long-time friend and admirer, as the “Cambridge Jewel.”
Ruth’s stirring performances have been written in many reviews. In 1997, the Boston Globe printed a feature article entitled Ruth Hamilton: A Voice Of Amazing Grace. According to the article, Ruth appeared on the first collection of spirituals and art songs recorded by African American women composers. This project was sponsored by Videmus, and she was accompanied by pianist and long-devoted friend Vivian Taylor.
Ruth’s mission, as an artist of the African American spirituals, was to do her part in preserving a rich legacy of music. She was always concerned about the present generation’s increasing lack of familiarity of African American spirituals, and she was even more alared that many of the African American churches have abandoned the Spirituals as a sacred genre in replacement for contemporary and urban gospel. Ruth once said, “it shouldn’t be one or the other. There’s room in the Black church for the Spirituals and the Gospel. In fact, a good worshipping church is a church that embraces a rich inclusiveness for the spirituals, gospel, anthems, hymns, and all the rest. But let us never forget that the spirituals are our songs, our forefathers in the slave fields came up with those songs and so the Spirituals speak to a great heritage. Every time we sing the Spirituals, we are remembering where we came from and how far God has brought us.” In response to her long standing passion in safeguarding the religious, historical, and cultural importance of the Spirituals, a Ruth E. Hamilton Music Academy is being established as one of the major programs of the Charles Street A.M.E. Life Development Center.
Ruth leaves behind to cherish two sisters, Laconia Lane (age 92) and Johnnie Belle Craig (age 94) both from Atlanta who are leading very active lives, thirteen nieces and nephews, and a host of other relatives, friends, and fond admirers that have been immeasurably inspired by her brilliant uet Spirit-filled gift of song.
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