Betty Rosa Spivey, 60, gospel musician

Betty Rosa Spivey

Betty Rosa Spivey was a gospel pianist, vocalist, directress and arranger. In addition to her involvement in the local church community, her many talents were exposed to gospel music lovers everywhere as she accompanied various groups and singers to all parts of the world, such as Kitty Parham and the Stars of Faith European Tour, the Victory Choral Ensemble, Gloria Neal and the Ladies of Song, guest artist with the David Winslow Singers and many others. She died Aug. 25. She was 60.

Spivey was born on Sept. 26, 1950, in Philadelphia to the late Ward D. Spivey, Jr. and Helen E. Thomas Spivey. She was educated in the Philadelphia Public School District and a graduate of John Bartram High School. An avid reader of religious and socio-political issues, she attended Community College of Philadelphia and Temple University, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in Library Media Sciences. She was employed by the School District of Philadelphia and retired in April 2011 after 30 years of service. During those years, she often coordinated the music for graduation ceremonies and school plays for Alcorn and Vaux Public Schools.

Reared in a Christian home, she received her religious training from her parents and the Sunday School of Emmanuel AME Church. From an early age, she knew her Bible, taught by her late great uncle, Eugene Spivey, Superintendent of the Sunday School, Reverends John C. Spivey and Rosa Belle Spivey. She received her formal piano instruction and training from Ms. Rydonia Leecan, Mr. Howard Spivey and the late Lois W. Norris. Upon her death, she was a faithful and devoted member of Trinity AME Church in Philadelphia.

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Her outstanding gift and anointing of music emerged at the age of 10 when, upon hearing her “toy with the keys,” the late Presiding Elder Arnold D. Nearn, assigned her to play at the South District Sunday School Convention. Nervous and uncertain of her talent, she majestically played her first song, “Where He May Lead Me,” which set the course for her service as a pianist and organist in God’s Church. Many were often amazed at “the little piano playing girl from Elmwood who could find anyone’s key”! Throughout her music career, others described her as “humble in spirit and generous of her gift.”

The Savior indeed led Betty to faithfully serve as musician to many beloved Church congregations, educational institutions and the entertainment field. She did not share but gave her all in celebration and love of the music ministry. Being deeply steeped in the traditions of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she loved it dearly and served God well throughout her season. The following reflects 50 years of her gift to churches and choirs for Kingdom building: Emmanuel AMEC, St. Matthew AMEC, Waters Memorial AMEC, Jones Tabernacle AMEC, Morris Brown AMEC, New Bethel AMEC of Germantown, Zion AMEC, the AME Mass Choir, Campbell AMEC, St. Phillips Methodist Church, Christian Hope Baptist Church, First District Choir of Holy Temple C.O.G.I.C., Simpson Fletcher United Methodist Church and others too numerous to name. Additionally, she rendered service to the Women’s Days of Mt. Zion AMEC, Darby, Zion AMEC, Philadelphia, Trinity AMEC, St. James AMEC, Newark, NJ and the Queen’s Contest of Women’s Missionary Society during the tenure of the late Bertha Guyton She continued to serve as AME Mass Choir Director and member of the music staff to the Philadelphia Conference and First Episcopal District AME Church until she was called to the Heavenly Chorus.

Part of her ministry to her beloved African Methodist Episcopal Church involved assisting overseas districts in social, religious and political issues. She developed a sweet fellowship with the clergy and laity of the Cape Town, South Africa (15th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church); often holding prayer and song ministry while providing rich dialogue and guidance.

Among, one of Spivey’s greatest achievements was her organization and development of Triumph, a talented group of Philadelphia gospel singers who performed across the United States. An acclaimed tour was their accompaniment of Patti LaBelle in her Look to the Rainbow Tour. She played at such places as the famous Gershwin Theater on Broadway, the Westbury Music Fair in New York, Valley Forge Music Fair and the Shubert Theater in Philadelphia. 

She wrote the plays “Glass Houses,” “Where You Gonna Run?,” “Rejoicing in Hope” (with Minister Walter Stewart), and “At the Cross” one of which she planned to present after retirement. She choreographed and provided keyboard accompaniment for Don B. Welch Productions in the national plays Hallelujah Mahalia and Heavenbound. Serving as pianist and organist, she appeared in the gospel musical productions of “The Gospelers” and “Master, I Want to Live.” Traveling and performing throughout Europe, the Caribbean and the United States, she composed, recorded and arranged songs for gospel groups and vocalists everywhere.

Spivey is survived by: mother, Helen E. Spivey; sister, Marian Spivey Sudler; brother, Ward D. Spivey III; sister-in-law, Elaine Spivey; nephew, Robert L. Sudler Jr.; two adopted nephews, Maurice Showell and Reginald Graves; aunt, Geraldine McMillan; and a large host of relatives, friends, god-nieces and nephews from her years of fellowship.

A memorial service musical celebration will be held on September 10, at St. Matthew AME Church, 215 North 57th Street. It will start at noon. Congleton Funeral Home handled the arrangements.

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