Originally created 01/19/01

Ramblin' Rhodes: Augusta loses two gospel-music pioneers



There was no overflow of mourners or an abundance of floral arrangements last week at the funerals for 91-year-old Mildred Graves Mays and 85-year-old Stephen Dexter "Steve" Manderson.

Yet the musical influence of both extended way beyond the Augusta area to audiences throughout the United States and abroad.

"Mama Mays," as her children and grandchildren called her, was playing piano for the nurses and her fellow residents at Windermere Adult Day Health Center in the months before she died on Jan. 9.

She loved music and wrote a lot of gospel songs that never became famous. She was better known for the coffee shop she and her husband, Forest, ran on the bottom floor of the Lamar Building for many, many years.

And, for more than 40 years, she patiently worked with 3- and 4-year-olds in Sunday-school classes at Woodlawn Baptist Church. That alone probably earned her place in heaven.

While she never became known for her music, she did inspire her grandchildren. Three of them - Roy Frierson Jr., Connie Frierson Ryals and Sonya Frierson Bailey - formed the Frierson Trio and performed gospel music in Japan, Africa and the United States.

Mrs. Ryals and Mrs. Bailey also toured extensively as the featured vocalists of Youth With a Mission concert groups.

During their grandmother's funeral Jan. 12, Mrs. Ryals and Mrs. Bailey sang duets of the old gospel numbers Beyond the Sunset and Saved by Grace. Mrs. Bailey also sang When I Get to the End of the Way.

"Mama Mays wrote her whole service out in '91, including what songs she wanted us to do," Mrs. Ryals said. "I couldn't sing loud or else I would have started crying."

Among those at the Jan. 13 funeral of Steve Manderson was J.B. Fuqua, who founded television station WJBF (Channel 6). He came from Atlanta with his wife, Dorothy.

Whereas traditional white gospel music was part of Mrs. Mays' service, traditional black gospel music was part of the service for Mr. Manderson, an Augusta radio and TV pioneer who died Jan. 10 at his Martinez home.

The Abraham Brothers quartet sang emotional and spirited renditions of the songs Jesus Is Listening (All Night Long) and The Blood of Jesus Is Against You.

Mr. Manderson was the founder of Parade of Quartets, which aired Sunday mornings on WJBF for half a century. The show featured the best in local black gospel groups and some white gospel performers, including monthly regular Flo Carter and her band.

He also founded and was co-host for The Lewis Family's program, which was seen Sundays on WJBF for more than 40 years.

The Parade of Quartets is thought to be the longest-running religious musical program in TV history.

State Rep. Henry Howard, who was co-host of the Parade of Quartets with Mr. Manderson for many years, said the broadcast has been "more than just a religious program" and noted that it played a major role in uniting Augusta's black and white residents in the 1950s and '60s.

Mr. Howard's son, Carlton, now the program's host, said the religious nature of the program has changed many viewers for the better. He commended "the legacy of what this man (Mr. Manderson) left, and what the Parade of Quartets has done for so many lives."

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 30 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at ramblin@morris.com.