Organist retires after 75 years

Published 8:45 am Friday, December 30, 2011

Miziner Roberts, 86, recently retired as the organist at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church. She played for the church for 75 years. MERLE MONAHAN/TIDEWATER NEWS


IVOR—Miziner Roberts says God gave her the gift of music, a gift she shared with parishioners at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church for 75 years.

The 86-year-old, who does not read music and never had formal training, retired in August. Roberts earlier this month was honored for her service.

“She has inspired many musicians and vocalists during the years and has definitely left an indelible mark in our hearts,” said the Rev. P.D. Wells, pastor of Mt. Sinai.

Attending the program for Roberts were her four children and many of her 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Several pastors spoke of Roberts’ devotion to her church and willingness to help others.

“The service brought back a lot of memories,” said Roberts. “I enjoyed playing at church so much. I hated to give it up, but I still play.”

She also served as organist at Holly Grove and Macedonia AME churches and Morning Star, First Gravel Hill and Sandy Mount Baptist churches.

Roberts began playing the piano when she was 10.

“My Uncle Buck Clarke sat me down on the piano stool one day and I started picking out tunes,” she said. “I was so short, my feet didn’t even touch the pedals.”

“But I liked it,” Roberts continued. “I kept practicing and it wasn’t long before I could play pretty well.”

By age 12, she could play so well that she was given the job of organist at Mt. Sinai.

Roberts rode to church with her parents in a horse and buggy. Years later, after her marriage, she drove her automobile.

“And I was never late,” she said.

“She’s right,” said her daughter, Katherine Chapman. “She used to dress all the children first and then get dressed herself. We had something like a routine.”

“I am the only girl, and on Sunday morning, she’d comb my hair and dress me, except for my dress, and make me sit until she was ready,” Chapman continued. “She didn’t want me to get my dress dirty. If I even got my socks dirty or messed my hair, it was a disaster. It took extra time to change.”

Roberts insisted her children be well behaved in church, even the babies.

“I’d take the baby into church, place his basket on the floor beside the organ and give him a pacifier,” she said. “He never made a sound.”

“Neither did we,” Chapman added. “My brothers and I sat on the front pew and we knew that if we misbehaved, we’d get the look. Then when we got home, we’d get the discipline.”

Roberts always found time to play for five additional churches, which held their services earlier in the day or met twice a month.

Employed by Smithfield Packing for 22 years and later a caregiver while raising her children, Roberts until recently did her own housework and cooked on holidays.

“But she needs to slow down,” Chapman said. “We try to help her as much as she’ll let us.”