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Music prof, honoree Stephens dead at 88 in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Genter Leroy Stephens, professor emeritus of church music at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, from which he retired in 1977 after serving 22 years, died Aug. 10 at Metropolitan Hospice in New Orleans. He was 88.

In addition to teaching at the seminary, he taught at Carson-Newman College, Jefferson City, Tenn.; Belmont College (now Belmont University), Nashville, Tenn.; Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn.; and George Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, Nashville.

Before teaching at the seminary, Stephens served as full-time music minister at First Baptist Church, Greensboro, N.C., from 1936-38, Forrest Avenue Baptist Church, Dallas, 1939-41 and Belmont Heights Baptist Church, Nashville, 1946-52. In various capacities, he led music in 44 churches over a 63-year span.

“Dr. Stephens was one of the seminary’s two music faculty members in the 1950s who came with experience in a full-time music ministry,” said Harry Eskew, professor of music history and hymnology at New Orleans Seminary. “He modeled for us standards for excellence in church music,” Eskew added, sharing that Stephens also had students focus on discovering and learning the doctrines found in hymns.

“If there was a way to use the gift of music in service to the church, Dr. Genter Stephens did it,” said New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelley. “We thank the Lord that so many of his years were spent training students in this School of Providence and Prayer.”

Stephens also assisted in publishing a Spanish version of the Baptist Hymnal at the Southern Baptist Spanish Publishing House in El Paso, Texas, and served on the committee for the 1956 Baptist Hymnal. He also served as secretary of the church music department of the Tennessee Baptist Convention in Nashville. In recognition of his contributions to church music, the Southern Baptist Church Music Conference in 1997 presented Stephens with its highest recognition, the W. Hines Sims Award. Also, Genter’s alma mater, William Jewell College, Liberty, Mo., established the Genter Stephens Award for outstanding church music students, which was later received by Ken Gabrielse, current chairman of New Orleans Seminary’s music division.

Later in his career, Stephens had an entertaining ministry for senior adults, often dressing in his Scottish kilt and playing his bagpipe. He also played a most unusual instrument: a musical saw, a saw blade typically used in construction projects. “As far as I know, Stephens was the only music faculty member [at New Orleans Seminary] who played the musical saw,” Eskew said.

Stephens was born in Liberty, Mo., and lived in New Orleans for the past 46 years. A Navy veteran of World War II, he received his bachelor of arts from William Jewell in 1933 and his master of sacred music and master of religious education degrees from Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, in 1941. He later received his doctor of education degree from George Peabody College in 1964. His post-doctoral work includes theological study at the University of Edinborough in Scotland.

Stephens’ survivors include two daughters, Lydia Lee Stephens and Jonella “Jodi” Harrison; two grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

A funeral was held Aug. 16 at Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo., and burial was in Providence Cemetery in Kansas City, Mo. A memorial service was also held Aug. 19 at First Baptist Church of New Orleans.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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