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Date May 30, 2020

In the last photo, left to right:  Great Grandmother, Marion Royster Stewart, Great Uncle Harry Royster, Great Aunt Willa Ward Royster, Great Aunt Christine Royster Lane.

“My Dearest Aunt Willa. Her walk was concentrated in class, with a pinch of strength,  mixed inside her wine glass.  There was a whole lot of honey inside her bowl of essence.  Boy was she sweet.   Confidence exuded from her presence.  Simply when entering a room, everything in it was drawn to her, including me.   “Hey baby, come give your Aunt Willa some sugar!”  “Tina!  The kids are getting so big.  Harry and I have to come visit more often, you know.”  Love, kisses and hugs.  That was my favorite part. Years before I understood who I was in the world or the meaning of my name, somewhere mixed in with the Tuskegee Airmen, dignitaries and all of the “Who’s Who” in Philadelphia, her vocals also became a fixture at Aunt Chrissy’s, (Christine Royster – Lane’s) fourth of July celebrations.  Uncle Demon, James Lane, would also be in the thick of  it.  “Boom Bam Boom!” on the drums he moved.  Uncle received the nickname Demon (as he was a Free Mason), and the smoothest cat on the piano.  In fact, the piano wasn’t the only instrument that he mastered.  He could be heard swelling, soaring, just belting out tunes and melodies that would put anyone in a trance. Years later, I would be there right in the mix of things, until Mommy made it clear, it was time for bed.  Nonetheless, it was a day of festivities ending with Aunt Willa gliding across the black and white keys on grand baby piano.

As a child, my siblings and I were blessed beyond measure to spend so much time with Aunt Willa, Uncle Harry, Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Peggy and simply just the Royster side of the family.   We use to love going road running with Aunt Chrissy to Uncle Harry’s store in North Philadelphia.  Next, off to Grand Mother Marion’s house for a visit or overnight weekend stay.   We had a host of elders that we would not have necessarily had as much exposure to if our parents did not separate.  Our elders were the quintessence of a timeless and disciplined generation.  The truth is, we were blessed beyond measure.  The sights and sounds we heard are with us always, because of that kind of exposure, we understand our lives are not our own, through example.  My Dearest Aunt Willa. Her walk was concentrated in class, with a pinch of strength,  mixed inside her wine glass.  There was a whole lot of honey inside her bowl of essence.  Boy was she sweet.   Confidence exuded from her presence.   Simply when entering a room, everything in it was drawn to her, including me.”  ~  Leona Baker  

An Excerpt

In 1931, Gertrude Murphy Ward, pressing clothes in a Philadelphia dry cleaning store, heard a voice, “Go sing my Gospel and help save dying and lost men and women.”  And again, standing on a street corner with other dayworkers, she heard the same voice. “Gertrude, sing my Gospel.  Why look for another job when I’ve already given you one?”  From that day on, Gertrude said, she “had no other job but to sing for the Lord.”  In 1934, Madam Gertrude Ward celebrated her first anniversary as a gospel singer, and with her appeared her two daughters, Willa and Clara Ward, ages thirteen and ten.  By 1970, policemen had to control overflowing crowds for the Clara Ward Singers concerts at home and abroad.  In the meantime, Clara’s mother Gertrude and sister Willa were on the move with their own groups.  As one news commentator put it, “That’s some kind of busy.’

And there was more to come.  This is the story of Gertrude and Willa and Clara Ward- the original Ward Singers and the leaders of various vocal ensembles that performed under the Ward name for more than half a century. ~ How I Got Over Clara Ward and the World -Famous Ward Singers.  Willa Ward-Royster as told to Toni Rose Foreward By Horace Clarence Boyer   

About Willa Ward:  https://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/arts/music/willa-ward-gospel-singer-dies-at-91.html

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