Obituaries

Randy Green, last of the original Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, dies at 95

Mr. Green was known to walk around an audience as he sang.

Skippy White

Mr. Green was known to walk around an audience as he sang.

As a cofounder and for many years lead vocalist of the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, Randy Green sometimes needed a 50-foot microphone cord so he could walk out into the audience.

“I feel real good when I perform, and it makes me come right off the stage,” he told the Globe in 2000.

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At a Club Passim retrospective concert in Sanders Theater in Cambridge five years later, the Globe noted that the then 83-year-old Mr. Green hopped into the crowd “to assemble an eager choir” from patrons in the front rows.

“Randy could really get the audience fired up,” said Skippy White, a longtime Boston disc jockey and record store owner. “He was a real showman from the old school who wanted to keep entertaining until the Lord took him home.”

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Mr. Green, the last surviving original member of the a cappella singing group, died July 27 in the VA Medical Center in Brockton. He was 95 and lived in Roxbury.

Silver Leaf, which started as a quartet and is now in its 72nd year, currently consists of seven men ranging in age from their 50s to their 80s. They have performed at Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops, the Newport Jazz Festival, Boston’s First Night celebration, and in scores of venues such as for church groups, community centers, and nursing homes.

Mr. Green “tried his hand at just about every part — tenor, baritone, bass — but most often he took the lead, his voice rising buoyantly over the chugging chorus provided by his comrades in song,” WBUR-FM music critic Amelia Mason wrote online earlier this month. She added that “all it took was a sly glance at the audience, and he possessed them, ears, hearts, and all.”

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The group was founded March 11, 1945, in the Roxbury home of Ruth and William Finch by Mr. Green and the Rev. James Lockwood. Mr. Green, the group’s manager, had little access to records or a formal music education as a young man. He and his friends were inspired by the Golden Gate Quartet, a group they’d heard on radio.

“We tried to put our voices together to do the notes we were hearing, but none of us had been trained in any way,” Mr. Green recalled in the 2000 Globe interview. “We got asked to sing at a church and it was so bad that we got out and walked a whole block and criticized ourselves. Then we came back and tried again, and it was still bad. We kept picking at it and things eventually started to shape up.”

They had a breakthrough with their first 78 r.p.m. recording at O’Byrne DeWitt and Copley Records in Roxbury, which White said was “likely the first record issued by a local gospel group.”

One of Mr. Green’s most poignant moments on stage occurred in October 1995 at the Strand Theater in Dorchester where the surviving original Silver Leaf Gospel Singers held their 50th anniversary concert.

He was performing 19 years later, his voice still powerful at age 92, at White’s 53rd Radio Anniversary Gospel Train concert at the Charles Street AME Church in Dorchester.

Randolph E. Green Sr. was born and grew up in Tuskegee, Ala., the youngest child of Walter Green and the former Dolly Johnson.

“Our school had one pot-bellied stove,” Mr. Green said for a biographical sketch that is posted online, and added that “we had to go into the woods to get wood to heat the stove for the school to be warm.”

He served with the Civilian Conservation Corps and then as a corporal with the Army’s Ninth Cavalry. While serving in the military, Mr. Green met Melba Craig and they married in 1942. The longtime Roxbury residents celebrated their 75th anniversary June 27.

After moving to Watertown in 1943, Mr. Green was a welder at businesses such as Hingham and Fore River shipyards, Watertown Arsenal, and General Electric. He was awarded several welding patents.

He also hosted radio shows on WTAO-AM in Cambridge, where the Silver Leaf Singers performed live on Sundays, and at WMEX-AM in Boston. The group’s name owed a little to his military service. “When I was in the Ninth Cavalry, I wore silver spurs,” Mr. Green recalled in a 2004 interview with Spirit of Change Magazine. “I thought about the word silver. Good silver always shines. . . . If the group does well, it shines.”

Mr. Green was a local promoter of gospel music, bringing the Golden Gate Quartet and other nationally known groups to Boston, even while his own group continued to grow in popularity. Silver Leaf originally played to mostly African-American audiences around Greater Boston. Over time they drew more white audiences through shows at area colleges. “The younger kids were really open to the music,” Mr. Green said. “They hadn’t heard anything like this in any of their churches. With us, they could clap their hands and express themselves.”

He said their repertoire included stories from the Bible that were put to music, often with call-and-response refrains, along with spirituals and faster, more joyous songs with lyrics less-grounded in the Bible.

In 2004, the New England Conservatory honored the Silver Leaf singers with a lifetime achievement award that read: “By keeping the tradition of old-time a cappella jubilee singing alive, the contribution of the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers to the overall music fabric of Boston and New England has been indelibly enriched.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Green leaves five daughters, Helen Morrissette, Sherrill Goms, Kimberly Stubbs, Dolly, and Elizabeth; three sons, Randolph Jr., Craig, and Jonathan; 24 grandchildren; 23 great-grandchildren; two great-great-grandchildren; and a great-great-great-granddaughter.

A celebration of Mr. Green’s life was held in Concord Baptist Church in Milton, where he had been a deacon for more than 70 years. Concord Baptist formerly was in Boston’s South End.

“He was a phenomenal man, a man of faith, determination, and creativity,” said the Rev. Conley Hughes, senior pastor at the church. “He came from humble beginnings and was an example of how a person can attain success in life. He imparted much wisdom and we looked up to him.”

Mr. Green’s daughter Sherrill said he “was peaceful and loving to all people. He would listen to them, and no matter what their circumstance he would never pass judgment and would always say, ‘Most interesting.’ ’’

During Mr. Green’s final days, he was visited by his fellow Silver Leaf members, including Melvin Francisco, who has a talent for making music by humming through paper and a comb.

“Randy asked me, ‘You still doing that comb?’ ” recalled Francisco, who proceeded to play “Amazing Grace” at his friend’s bedside. “He was like a father to us,” Francisco said.

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.
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