Selvin Emmanuel Hall
1920 - 2011
Selvin (Papi) Hall, composer, singer, and choir director, was a prolific composer and dedicated church musician who inspired everyone he knew with his music and dedication to God.
Selvin was born on Christmas Day in Manzanillo, Oriente Cuba, one of two children and the only son of Santiago Nelson and Gladys Fergunson Hall. Although his sister, Elvira, was not inclined to pursue music, it was evident from Selvin's earliest years that he possessed unusual musical gifts and an innate creativity in writing music.
His formal training in music was limited but included, in his early youth lessons with the famed Cuban musician Jorge Ankermann and later in life training with acclaimed classical musicians such as Gisela Hernandez, Olga de Blanck, and maestro Rafael Somavilla in an intensive but brief course at the Institute for Music Instructors. Despite his limited formal training, Selvin became a well-known singer, choir director, and composer in Cuba's Christian circles and later in New Jersey and Florida.
He married Elsa Fortun in 1948. They would have six children, one of whom died at an early age and two who died under tragic circumstances. The three surviving children, David, Nelson, and Merari, were born while their parents resided in Cuba. He taught music and served as Director for choruses of the armed forces of that country, a position he was appointed to after graduating from IMI.
He and his wife became founders and members, with other relatives and friends, of the Soldiers of the Cross, a very strict Sabbath-keeping religious group that started in Cuba. In 1959, while still residing in Cuba, they joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The Hall family, except for David, the oldest child who was eligible to serve in the military, came to the U.S. in 1968. Their son Nelson later talked about that experience and what it was like after the family settled in Hoboken, New Jersey:
It was pretty late one night when the authorities came to our home and told us "Come, You are leaving now." We were not able to take anything other than the clothes we were wearing. Our family was only able to leave Cuba only because family members in Jamaica, New York, had invited us to come and live with them. While we entered the country through Miami, we were there for just a week before moving to Jamaica for five months and then settling in Union City, New Jersey.
While the greatest concentration of Cuban exiles was in Miami, New York City and Union City in New Jersey were other places where we settled. Like many of other professional persons who came to the U.S., my father did what he had to do to make a living. He worked in a number of menial jobs, eventually working as a bellhop at the Miami airport, to support his family. Even so, he never complained and continued to write and perform his music and serve as choir director in the Hoboken Adventist church.
Hall served as music director and choir director in the Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hoboken, as he had in the Adventist church in Cuba. The family eventually moved to Miami, Florida, in the late 1970s, where Selvin and Elsa became naturalized citizens in January 1978.
All three of his children were involved in music from their earliest years. Nelson, who had been taught the fundamentals by his father, would pursue music as a career, become a music educator and a skilled composer and arranger with a doctorate in music. David, a singer who came to the U.S. in 1978, has pursued a career in radio and communications and has served as a church musician. Merari (Chollette), a lover of music, has pursed a career in the healthcare professions and is presently concentrating on her role as mother to two daughters, providing them with opportunities in music.
Near the end of their time in New Jersey, Selvin and Elsa rejoined the Soldiers of the Cross, which had relocated to the U.S. and dramatically tempered its beliefs, adapting to the more open culture in the U.S. These changes, coupled with the attachment they felt to other founders and early members and friends who were part of that church, led them to make this change.
Devout Christians, both of the Halls, in spite of the challenges and tragedies in their life, continually praised God for the blessings in life. Throughout his life, Selvin always acknowledged his Creator as the source of his gifts and continually sought to glorify Him in all of his music making and writings. He served as a minister of music well into his eighties, for over six decades in both churches.
As he had in Cuba, he continued to compose music for the rest of his life, writing over 150 sacred songs, including settings for sixteen Psalms, a Christmas Cantata, Navidad Antillana, and numerous other works for choir. The Halls were able to return to Cuba to visit friends and relatives several times; they were living in Miami when he died at age ninety.
Source: Information provided by Nelson and David Hall, January 2012; interview with Nelson on September 24, 2012.