Testimony was given, witness provided and thanks offered Saturday evening at A.P. Shaw United Methodist Church on the first anniversary of gospel singer Hardie Clifton's heart transplant at Richmond's Medical College of Virginia.
Proclamations from Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer and Washington Mayor Marion Barry and a letter from President Reagan were read. Members of Clifton's family came forward to give thanks for the success of the surgery and the singer's recovery. A social worker representing the hospital recalled that Clifton's prospects of survival were so bleak at times that the staff did not expect him to make it.
Among the moving responses to Clifton's presence at the church service was a riveting program by the 20-strong Damascus Light Gospel Choir, whose call-and-response patterns and riffs over blues-inflected piano had the verve of a crack big band. A smaller unit, the Shaw Echoes, brought members of the congregation to their feet with its Mahalia Jackson-like fervor.
Spirits were high when Clifton himself emerged from the wings and declared, "I want to sing until I just get satisfied. Let's have a good time tonight -- everybody." Accompanied by his wife Sherry at the piano, electric guitarist Frank Cook and David McPherson on electric bass, Clifton led off with "When My Days Are Dark" in a firm tenor. The dominant mood was unabashed joy.
Although Clifton took several breaks, spelled by the high-spirited vocals of his wife, the buoyancy he displayed in song after song was communicated to his audience and they frequently interjected "All right!" and "Praise the Lord!" as he strolled up the aisle, his voice resonating and his finger pointed heavenward. It was truly a moment to remember.