Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reunited With a Most Special Friend

Today I was able to acquire a piece of art that will always hold a special place in my heart. It is a Boehm porcelain figurine of an old friend – and one of the world’s most famous bassos – the legendary Jerome Hines. Incredibly, there were only 12 of these figures ever made, and this bears the mark of #1.

Jerry, as he liked us to call him, was asked to leave his high school choir because he “couldn’t carry a tune.” But his love for music, and subsequent training, made him the leading basso at the Metropolitan Opera for 41 years. His most famous role was the lead in Boris Godunov, which he sang at opera houses worldwide, including a performance at the Bolshoi in Moscow for Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In fact, he carried a message directly from Khruschev to President Kennedy that affirmed Russia would not go to war over Cuba.

A born-again Christian, Jerry composed I Am the Way, an opera on the life of Christ. He sang the role at the Met in 1968 and performed the role many times around the world. I can never forget when I first met him at a dress rehearsal for I Am the Way in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1970’s. He was in full dress for the role of Jesus, and this imposing 6’6” frame “Jesus” staring down at me with his hand on my shoulder left a most indelible impression!

When I was a pastor in Dayton, I had Jerry do a sacred and secular concert as a benefit for the church, which drew about 1,000 people. He spent three days and two nights in my home, and preached for an overflow crowd at my church on Sunday morning. Every time he was in the area, I would call him, or he would call me, and we managed to spend time together.

Jerome Hines was undoubtedly one of the most committed and sincere Christians I have ever known. He touched thousands of lives well beyond his monumental operatic repertoire. He was active with the Salvation Army, and often could be found singing at rescue missions in the Bowery area of New York City and witnessing to drunks, addicts and homeless people.

Jerry battled cancer for a number of years, and literally thanked God for the disease, because it was another opportunity for him to teach others that, for a true believer, nothing can overcome the power and blessings of God.

Jerry believed that death was God’s “perfect healing,” where pain and sorrow are no more, and where we can finally live perfectly with Him in eternity.

My life will never be the same because of him. Jerry died peacefully in 2003 at 81 years of age, two years after his final operatic performance.

So you see, it’s much more than a porcelain figurine. He’s come to stay with us again, as a reminder of his powerful love for Jesus Christ - a shared faith and a shared friendship.