On June 23, 2014, I wrote about Mattie Robertson, composer/arranger and choir director of Chicago’s First Baptist Congregational Church. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting her when the FBCC choir came to my home church, Broadway Christian in Columbia, MO. Her neice, Rachel Griffin took the picture of Mattie and me. Thanks Rachel, for the photo and for bringing this treasure to my attention.
Sometimes, you find gold as serendipity. I chanced to chat with a new member of my church, Rachel Griffin, and she told me about her cousin/godmother, Mattie Robertson of Chicago.
Mattie was born to good parents who had little formal education, but they valued education and sacrificed for their children. Mattie was named after her grandmother, Mattie Griffin. That grandmother insisted all her grandchildren learn and appreciate music. It stuck with Mattie big time. She began at age four and she has been celebrated in Chicago as “Choral Director Extraordinaire” by the local CBS affiliate.
Though she wasn’t fond of high school, perhaps because she was the only African American student in an otherwise entirely white and predominately Jewish school, she did enjoy playing violin in their orchestra. When she learned of an opening at DePaul University in Chicago, she auditioned and was accepted without any further entrance requirements.
Her talent had been used at her Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church playing for the choir beginning at age 12. After college, she taught music and directed the girls’ choir at Whitney Young magnet high school in 1975, the year it opened. She had no prior high school experience, but did have 19 years in the trenches at the primary level. The Whitney Young school song came from her creative soul. In addition to teaching, she continued with church music and the Metropolitan Church for 45 years. Today she is affiliated with and director of the sanctuary choir at First Baptist Congregational Church in Chicago.
During this entire time, she arranged music and composed many hymns. Mattie comes across as a humble person, and like many of the women featured in Sisters in Song, she hasn’t published her hymns outside of her church. She has no ambition to publish her hymns, and says she needs no recognition. In my phone interview of her, it’s apparent she seeks only to increase the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of Mattie. However, one contemplative arrangement, “I Must Tell Jesus”, written by Elisha Hoffman, was used in the movie Hardball and published by GIA Publications. She told me this came about just by chance and being in the right place at the right time. She was involved in a workshop on hymns in Virginia when her talent was caught by the right person to get her involved in that movie. The music is available through GIA. Meanwhile, she continues to arrange and write hymns. Perhaps someday we may hear some of them without the need to go to Chicago.