Gwen Foster and her husband, Allen William Foster have been part of a dynamic music couple for over forty years, becoming outstanding leaders in Seventh-day Adventist music. In spite of the busy schedule they keep, both have also been active in other ways. One of Gwen's endeavors, that of serving as "Health Czar" for the city of Philadelpia for eight years, garnered national attention.
Gwen's early childhood was spent in Louisville, Kentucky, until racial tensions led her parents and their family to move to Philadelphia. A musical child, while still in her teens, she led the youth choir at the Ebenezer Seventh-day Adventist Church. She attended Oakwood College, now University, and Temple University then completed an education degree at Antioch University.
When she married Allen Foster, an accomplished organist, they started their joint music ministry at Ebenezer, one that still continues. Beginning in 1981, they worked in the music department at Pine Forge Academy, she as conductor of the choir and he as accompanist. The school's choirs, which have long enjoyed a stellar reputation, flourished under the Fosters, and theirs was chosen as the official choir for the Pan American Youth Congress in 1984. Two CDs were made during their time at PFA.
They also worked together for six years to develop a concert choir at historic Lincoln University, a school for African Americans that lists among its alumni Langston Hughes, world-acclaimed poet, and Thurgood Marshall, first African-American Justice of the US Supreme Court. The resulting acclaimed group toured extensively.
In her twenties, Gwen began to work for the conference as a Bible instructor in Philadelphia. She immediately discovered in the homes she visited serious health issues that needed to be resolved. By tackling these first, through offering cooking classes and talking about other health concerns, she found her ministry was much more effective.
When the conference became aware of her approach and its success, it sent Foster to Loma Linda University, where she completed a master's degree in public health. On her return to Philadelphia in 1978, she was made health ministries director of the Allegheny East Conference and, in that capacity, launched her first "health-conditioning camp," an experience designed to restore and establish good health practices, at conference headquarters. Word of the camp's success spread and at its peak it was attended by as many as 130 persons each summer from all over the U.S. and the Caribbean.
In 2000, she was approached by the mayor of Philadelphia to help their city become healthier when it had just been listed as the fattest city in a national poll. For the next eight years, she creatively led out in an effort that soon attracted national attention. Children were encouraged to grow gardens and learned how to eat healthful meals. Programs were designed for all age groups that led to numerous successful stories in the press about changed and improved lives.
All during those busy years, the Fosters work in music continued at Ebenezer and elsewhere. While assisting in evangelistic efforts in Africa, Russia, and Bermuda, she formed choirs which made the meetings more effective. In 2008, the Fosters' many musical contributions were acknowledged when they were awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Guild of Adventist Musicians.
Sources: Wayne H. Hooper and Edward E. White, Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, 1988, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 393-94; "Master Musicians (Allen and Gwen Foster)," Regina Reid Clairmont, Columbia Union Visitor, August 2009, 11,12; Celeste Ryan, "Gwen Foster: Health Czar: Her mandate is clear, and her challenge is huge." cover story, Adventist Review, 3 February 2005, 16-21. See biography for Allen William Foster for additional information about his career.