Chalmer at centre of gospel push
He is another of the cornerstones of the Christian music ministry in Barbados. And after 43 years promoting gospel music –– along with his Gospel Comforters band –– Chalmer Griffith must not be forgotten. On November 18, Griff, as he is affectionately known among those of his era, will be 71 years old, but while he is no longer pushing himself to play (bass guitar) at events with the band he managed for most of the 43 years, Chalmer said he does not know when he will stop altogether.
He is certain, though, that he will continue performing at the annual Rotary Club-sponsored senior citizens party held at Government House. His last event was at Princess Margaret Secondary School earlier this year on behalf of the St Philip Moravian Church.
For those who may be wondering right now what makes Chalmer Griffith so special apart from others of his time, the answer is simple. At his Gospel Youth Centre which was located at the corner of Mason Hall Street and Baxters Road, he provided a free platform for established and emerging gospel artists to hone their talents and become known. It was at that same centre where many artistes were able to gain much knowledge about developing their skills, being taught instrumental music and given vocal training, and having access to all the latest locally recorded –– and Caribbean –– gospel music which was on sale at the centre.
It was also the home of the first ever gospel music association of Barbados and the meeting place for the business of various artistes. Acts such as the Gospel Express led by Ronald Ronnie D Davis (now the cultural officer for music at the National Cultural Foundation), the Gospel Seeds that specialized in reggae, the New Connections led by Vasco Greaves and Tony Lowe, and The Redemptions were all afforded an avenue to expose their music to the wider public.
It was in 1972 that Chalmer joined the Gospel Comforters at the New Testament Church Of God in River Road, a band started two years earlier by the late Michael Director Forde and Trevor Grant. Just after meeting his wife Yvonne at his mother’s church in Belle Gully, the foundation for Chalmer’s rewarding journey in this music ministry was later laid at the River Road church, which would result in three albums, close to half-dozen singles, and tracks on collaborations produced by the Godfather Of Gospel Music Joseph Niles.
Among the more popular songs produced by Chalmer’s Gospel Comforters were Keep Your Eyes On Jesus, Toot The Train, Jesus Is The Rock and Try Jesus. But one cannot talk about Chalmer’s achievements without giving credit to his wife who has not only been a part of the band for all the years as a lead vocalist, but has been his rock as well.
Looking back over the decades, Chalmer described the St Vincent, Tortola and St Thomas legs of an eight-island Caribbean performing tour –– with Joseph Niles –– as his most memorable. It was in St Vincent where he hooked up with some of that island’s top artistes like Meryl Soleyn, whom he got to perform with his band back in Barbados for a short time.
He also connected with the Regenerated Singers in Tortola, and they took him on tours to Virgin Gorda.
Chalmer and Yvonne –– she will be 72 on October 7 –– produced another musical genius. Terry, who was the youngest drummer in local music, started playing and touring with the band while at primary school. Since then, Terry, who is now on tour in Greece, has been the technical guru of the band –– arranging, producing, playing. Chalmer has also credited Joseph Niles with helping to promote the Gospel Comforters by taking them on tour to New York and the eight-island Caribbean trip.
Chalmer is credited with forming an all-girls gospel band in the late 1980s. For his outstanding contribution to the development of the art form in Barbados and his wife’s very important support, the Griffiths were honoured by the Barbados Gospelfest committee recently. Yvonne has also recorded a number of releases, including I Want To See Jesus (a single) and did the lead on Jesus Is The Rock (an album by the same title).