June 7, 1926 – March 9, 2017
Roy A. Mathis, who founded an a cappella male chorus and directed it in church concerts for 70 years, died Thursday in Sisters Hospital after a period of declining health. He was 90.
Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., the youngest of 10 children, he became a music lover as a child and was further encouraged by a teacher at Howard High School in Chattanooga, where he sang in choral groups.
After he came to Buffalo in 1945 to join two brothers and a sister here, he organized a singing group with his brothers at a church on the East Side.
“I said, ‘Hey, let’s start a quartet,’ ” he told The Buffalo News upon the chorus’ 50th anniversary in 1996. “They went along with it, and in a little while we added two more guys. Thus started the Royal Serenaders – that’s the only name we’ve ever had.”
Mr. Mathis developed an a cappella repertoire of classical, popular and gospel songs for the group, which performed at church services and Sunday night church programs around the city.
Over the years, he taught himself how to rearrange music to fit the 18-member chorus’ deeper, tenor- and bass-only voices. The chorus competed nationally in the 1960s and 1970 and became racially integrated in the 1990s.
An outstanding figure in a brightly-colored blazer or vest in front of the chorus, he directed the group in its 70th anniversary concert last July in his home church, Pilgrim St.-Luke’s United Church of Christ.
He was a member of the American Choral Directors Association and the National Association of Negro Musicians.
He also worked as a mail handler for a railroad for several years, then was a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service from 1960 to 1984.
Among his honors were the Distinguished Citizens Award, the Black Achievers Award, a Community Leader Award and the President’s Exemplary Service Award from the Buffalo Urban League.
Survivors include his wife of 30 years, the former Joyce Cameron, the chorus’ longtime piano and organ accompanist; four daughters, Yvonne Darden, Deborah Watkins, Rene Petties-Jones and Tammy; eight grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday in Pilgrim-St. Luke’s United Church of Christ, 322 Richmond Ave. at West Utica Street, following visitation at 10 a.m.