Hello friends and neighbors. It is good to see you here.

On April 29, I visited Lighthouse Baptist Church in Jacksonville to see and hear Zachary Blackburn, the church’s new 17-year-old music director. He did a fine job directing the choir but it was the piano solo at the end of the church service that soared through the building and brought glory to God. What is equally impressive is that Zach began playing the piano through divine intervention just under four years ago and has reached his level of accomplishment.

Zach grew up in the church attending several evenings each week with his grandparents the Rev. Ronnie and Carolyn Ezzell. Rev. Ezzell was the pastor of four churches in 28 years and he also preached at revivals throughout the state. The Ezzells also had a singing group, the Good News Singers, consisting of the couple and three others. The group traveled in a van to minister through song.

“My grandparents raised me to follow Jesus Christ and taught me how I should live my life so that others could see the light of Christ inside of me,” Zach said.

It was just under four years ago when Zach’s journey with God and music began at a camp meeting in Dunn. When he was six, Zach had taken piano lessons from a teacher in Warsaw but did not like it and had no interest in ever playing the piano. At the end of the church service in Dunn, the pastor asked for two minutes of silence to “see what God can do.” When Zach and his grandfather Ronnie Ezzell came to the altar and joined hands, “something powerful came upon me,” Zach said. “It was the Holy Ghost, source of God’s power. God just filled me with his spirit in this situation.”

When the family returned home, Zach said that he prayed, “God I have a talent for something and I’m not sure what it is, but God I pray that you use me and your will be done.”

The hymn “I’ve got a Mansion Just over the Hilltop” kept playing in his head.

“I walked over to the piano the night we got back from the camp meeting and sat down and began playing the song totally by ear. The only thing I knew on the piano was the notes. I knew nothing about chords or anything like that. After I picked my grandparents up off the floor, I said ‘Papa, come show me some chords.’ ”

From that point on Zach said that he was able to learn everything his grandfather taught him and soon branched away from him to develop my own style and technique. Three years later he started taking music lessons from Tracey Phillips. In July 2017, Zach traveled to Orlando, Florida with the Mount Olive First Pentecostal Holiness Church to compete in a national piano competition. He won first place in the piano category.

Zach is kin to the Rev. Philip Shepard, pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church, and had been invited to play at the church several times. A man who attended requested that Zach play for his funeral. When Philip, who is also a state representative, called Zach to ask him to play for the funeral, Philip also asked him to fill the position of music director in his church.

“I told him I have very little experience in directing a choir but I can tell the people what note to sing because I have a good ear,” Zach said. “So he told me to come to his church and give it a shot.”

Zach travels from Wilmington each week to direct the music. Zach is a junior at Hoggard High School who plans to attend Campbell University to study business administration or medicine.

Zach is the son of James Blackburn and Ashley Ezzell.

Lighthouse Baptist Church is located at 2531 Burgaw Highway, Jacksonville. Please call 910-455-7640 for more information.

Tracey Phillips, Zach’s piano teacher, from Roswell, Georgia is a recipient of the Dove Award and is regarded as the “queen of convention music.” The Dove Award is presented annually by the Gospel Music Association to recognize outstanding achievement in the Christian music industry.

Phillips teaches and participates in the N.C. School of Gospel Music at Sandy Plains Baptist Church in Beulaville. Founders Jan Raynor and Gayle Kennedy attended the Ben Speers Stamps-Baxter School of Gospel Music in Nashville, Tennessee. They loved the music so much that they founded a music school at Cedar Fork Baptist Church in Cedar Fork. In five years the school has grown and moved to Sandy Plain Baptist Church for a larger venue.

Church music directors and choir members are encouraged to attend the school, Zach said The school has a day camp for children and a night school for adults that teaches basic music theory and how to read notes. They also have a group piano class. The week-long adult classes last two hours each night and cost $25 for the week. For more information, go to the North Carolina School of Gospel Music online or the Convention Choir on Facebook.

The Senior Picnic is back

Rotarians of Jacksonville Rotary Club South and Jacksonville Breakfast Rotary Club invite seniors to a picnic from noon to 2 p.m., May 20 at the Farmers Market, N.C. 24, Jacksonville.

Come after church to enjoy a free lunch of baked chicken and fixins to include cake and ice cream, entertainment and door prizes. No take outs please.

The Rotarians with the help of the Marines will serve the meal to support and appreciate our seniors.

Transportation available courtesy of National Dodge. Call Senior Services Supervisor Shelly Ashley at 910-455-2747 to arrange transportation.

Come on out and join the fun.

Thank you for coming.

 

Carolyn Alford’s column appears each week. She can be reached at calfordster@gmail.com