Ora Jackson’s long and faithful service with the Western Regional Choir was acknowledged at a recent luncheon that served to take note of the choir's farewell. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

Ora Jackson thought she was simply attending a luncheon event with 11 other remaining members of the Western Regional Choir of Memphis.

As it turned out, a special surprise was planned for the 100-year-old Jackson at the “Black Tie Farewell Luncheon” May 21 at Holiday Inn-University of Memphis.

“We honored Mrs. Jackson as the oldest member of Western Regional Choir of Memphis,” said Remell C. Hobbs, one of the luncheon’s coordinators. “We also gave special recognition to Florence Guy, treasurer of the choir for many years.”

Jackson had no idea she would be honored.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” said Jackson. “If we had known, my family would have been here with me. But it was still such an honor to be recognized.”

Jackson will turn 101 on July 5. She still can remember the glory days of Western Regional Choir.

“Back in the days before we started the choir, singers from different churches would just get together and sing at the National Baptist Convention,” said Jackson. “This one particular time when we were riding back home, somebody said, ‘They always enjoy us. Why don’t we just stay together and form a choir?’”

That was the start of Western Regional Choir.

Pictured are the 12 remaining members of the Western Regional Choir of Memphis. Seated (l-r): Larry Abston, Florence Guy (treasurer), Ora Jackson (oldest member), Dorothy Williamson, Remell C. Hobbs and Mary Abston (vice president). Standing(l-r): Rolanda Pittman (musician), Felicia Taylor, Helen Smith, Brenda Johnson, the Rev. Charles Johnson, and Gloria Scott. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

Hobbs also remembered the beginning. 

“The Western Regional Choir got started in 1975 because the singers thought it would be great to form a choir to sing at the convention,” said Hobbs. “That was the same year my mother died. I joined in October of 1975.”

Hobbs explained that choir members came from “all over.”

Ramell C. Hobbs (right) with Gloria Scott. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

“You see, we were the Western Regional Choir of Memphis, but there were others who were a part of the choir,” said Hobbs. “For instance, there was the Western Regional Choir of Henning (Tennessee). …

“Members came from different cities, but all together, we made up the Western Regional Choir.”

Jackson remembered the choir’s popularity. 

“We went everywhere singing, and we always had such a good time,” said Jackson. “It was a family choir. There were parents and children, husbands and wives. It was common for multiple members of a family to sing with Western Regional. My husband and I were members together.”

Hobbs remembered Jackson’s husband, John Jackson, as a gifted singer, with a rich, baritone voice that made him a crowd favorite.

Ora and John Jackson were long-time members of Central Baptist Church.

Western Regional Choir prominently showcased the works of two Memphis gospel composers, who garnered national fame for their prolific songwriting ⸺ Lucie Campbell and Dr. W. Herbert Brewster. 

Campbell wrote more than 100 gospel songs. And from 1930 to 1962, she debuted a new song annually at the National Baptist Convention.

Brewster is credited with writing more than 200 songs, several which became gospel standards. Brewster also was pastor of historic East Trigg Baptist Church in South Memphis from 1930 until his death in 1987.

“We did quite a few Herbert Brewster songs,” Jackson said. “They are still some of my favorites: ‘Let Us Go Back to the Old Landmark’ and ‘Move On Up a Little Higher.’ Choirs don’t sing his songs anymore. But back in those days, Dr. Brewster’s songs were everything.”

Western Regional Choir of Memphis’ membership peaked at 102, according to the choir’s recorded history.

“It was a joy to be a part of the Western Regional Choir,” said Jackson. “But things change. That’s just the way it is. I was blessed to be there the very first day, and I just witnessed the end. Those were some wonderful days. We still have our memories. We are blessed.”