James D. Bledsoe
1929 - 2022
J. D. Bledsoe, organist, pianist and singer, taught at several Seventh-day Adventist academies in North Dakota, California, North Carolina, and Florida for forty years. He also served as a church musician for most of his life.
James was born and raised in Oldon, Texas, on January 12,1929, where his father ran a diversified farm raising mostly cotton, wheat, and cattle. He was also an amateur singer and teacher who taught in the Stamps-Baxter Singing Schools tradition. J.D.\'s mother also sang and his older sister, a pianist, was his first piano teacher.
During his junior year in high school, his family joined the SDA church. Because he wanted to go to an Adventist school, he enrolled at Southwestern Junior College, now Southwestern Adventist University. Bledsoe completed his senior year in high school at SWJC in 1946, and continued for two more years of college before transferring to Southern Missionary College, a school with an unaccredited four-year program.
I went to Southern on the recommendation of Colin and Ruth Fisher, who were my music teachers at Southwestern. While at SWJC, I became acquainted with Harold A. Miller\'s compositions. His gospel song To See Thy Face, which is in the Gospel Melodies, just transfixed me and became a turning point in my life, both religiously and musically.
I didn\'t know he was a Seventh-day Adventist, but declared I would go to the ends of the earth to study with him, if indeed he was a teacher. I shared my thoughts with Ruth Fisher, and she happily told me she had been his student. She wrote a letter to him asking him to please take me on and I went to Southern, where he was teaching. At that time, when you graduated from Keene, you were supposed to go to Union College, which was a senior college.
I spent five years at Southern, where I studied with him and completed a double major in theology and music, the school having become an accredited senior college during my time there. Even after five years, I was reluctant to leave him. It had been my ambition when I arrived there to become his accompanist, and I did before I left.
During his study at SMC, Bledsoe met Margaret Jo Urick, a musically talented student from Alabama. Following their marriage in 1953, they accepted a position teaching music at Sheyenne River Academy, now Dakota Adventist Academy, in North Dakota, where they worked for a year. Bledsoe recalls,
When Professor Miller learned that Margaret Jo and I were going to North Dakota, fearing that I would freeze, he gave me his wonderful heavy wool overcoat. That coat had warmed him through New York, New England, and Tennessee winters. One of my fond memories is that of seeing him walking from his home to his studio in that coat. When he would enter his studio, I would often help him out of his coat and hang it up for him.
I took the coat to North Dakota, and perhaps it saved me from freezing! I actually wore it at times while teaching. As I donned the coat, my thoughts often took the form of a silent prayer that I could live up to my ambition to emulate my beloved teacher, that I would be able to show the love for my students that he had shown to us as students. I returned the coat to him after we moved from frigid North Dakota to sunny Southern California.
When an opportunity to teach at Newberry Park Academy developed at the end of that year, the Bledsoes eagerly accepted it, having, as Southerners, found that adjusting to the climate in North Dakota was impossible. After three years at NPA, they went to San Pasqual Academy, where he taught music and she taught English and assisted in music, as she had done at NPA, from 1957 to 1960.
After completing his degree at SMC, Bledsoe had started graduate work taking classes and instruction in organ, piano, and voice in the summers at Vanderbilt University. He completed an M.A. in music at VU in 1956 and then continued with some beginning work on a doctorate. While teaching in California, he also studied with noted organist Ladd Thomas.
In 1960 J. D. accepted a position at Lynnwood Academy, where he taught for the next nine years, and Margaret taught in the public school system. They moved to Mt. Pisgah Academy in North Carolina in 1969, because she was beginning to have respiratory problems, possibly related to the smog in Southern California.
After four years at MPA, the Bledsoes moved to Florida, where he chaired the department and taught music at Forest Lake Academy until 1993, when they retired. J. D. was honored with a listing in Who\'s Who Among American Teachers in 1992.
In addition to conducting school choirs, Bledsoe has sung as a soloist and in choral groups. Some of his most memorable experiences occurred in the Los Angeles area when he taught at Lynnwood Academy. During that time he sang in the Mitzelfelt Chorale, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, conducted by Robert Shaw, and under Charles Hirt of the University of Southern California. He also sang with choral groups in concerts presented by the Los Angeles Orchestra.
Through the years he arranged music for choir, piano, and organ. Some of his piano arrangements have been published.
Most recently, Bledsoe worked closely as head organist with Evan Chesney, minister of music at the Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church. Beginning when he was teaching at MPA, he held Sunday church music positions. While at MPA, he served at Trinity Episcopal Church in nearby Asheville, and when the Bledsoes moved to Florida, he played for many years at a Presbyterian church in the area. More recently, he served as assistant organist and choir soloist at the Anglican Cathedral in Oviedo, Florida.
Margaret Jo died in 2012. J.D. died February 6, 2022 in Windermere, Florida. He was survived by his son, David and his wife Diane, and a grandchild.
Sources: Interviews/Conversations, J. D. Bledsoe, October and November 2007; Letter with enclosures, 26 November 2007; Obituary, Southern Tidings, May 2022, 30.