By Bob Marovich
Bro. Nash Shaffer’s friends and loved ones said he needed no special invitation to sit in the front row of a gospel musical or service. He would proceed to the front of the church, choose his seat, and sit down.
In his later years, Bro. Nash moved down the aisle more slowly—walking “like Alfred Hitchcock,” quipped Milas Armour—but he made it to the front because that’s where he belonged.
That’s what those who paid tribute to gospel musician and historian Nash Shaffer Jr. said about their friend at his homegoing musical and appreciation service yesterday. Nash was present, and in front, but lain in state. The 62-year-old passed away last week after an extended illness.
Still, it was a musical that Nash, musician, gospel announcer, and longtime devotee of the traditional music of the African American church, would have relished. Held at Chicago’s historic Christian Tabernacle Church, where Rev. Maceo Woods is founder and pastor, the appreciation was hosted by Pastor DeAndre Patterson, Prof. L. Stanley Davis, and Pastor Ray Allen Berryhill, Chicago’s standard bearers of traditional gospel. Former Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer accompanist Shelby Wills was on organ.
In addition to remembrances by Tommies organist Delores Chandler Matthews, Min. Sandra Robinson, Sis. Luvonia Whittley, Fred Nelson III, Queen Esther, Effie Rolfe, Pam Morris, and several pastors were musical selections from a variety of artists.
Walt Whitman & the Soul Children of Chicago rendered “Oh To Be Kept By Jesus,” the Barrett Sisters sang their classic “Jesus Loves Me,” and George Mayes led the audience in a stirring version of “Total Praise.” The Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Warriors, for whom Bro. Nash sometimes served as accompanist, also contributed a song. Milas Armour sang Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer” with such conviction and improvisation that the lines came to life like never before.
Gospel music influentials present to pay their respects included Doris Sykes, Vernon Oliver Price, Loretta Oliver, Dennis Cole, Andre Carter, Rev. Stanley Keeble, and choir director LouDella Evans Reid.
Everyone recalled Nash’s encyclopedic knowledge of church songs, musicians, singers, pastors–right down to where they lived, what they did, and what they wore. He knew gospel because he was an integral part of Chicago’s gospel music community, whether as a young musician playing for the television show “Jubilee Showcase,” accompanying for several churches, or serving as accompanist for the Barrett Sisters while they toured Hawaii and Europe. He loved gospel music, pure and simple. It was his life.
Bro. Nash’s mother, Lois, passed away last year, and at least one person wondered aloud whether her death took the final wind out of Nash’s sails. Like gospel music, for every challenge there is blessed reassurance. Another responded: “Right now in Heaven, Lois is playing the piano and Nash is playing the organ.” Accompanying a hymn, no doubt.