times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark
from another person. Each of us has cause to think with
deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame
- Albert Schweitzer
“I need to talk...,” a broken man confessed to a friend
one evening. Their talk ran into the early hours of
morning as his friend listened to and prayed for him. “I
cried as I told him of God’s call on my life. I
confessed that I’d not only blown that call, but I’d
also blown my Christian testimony and my relationship
with my wife and children.”
That was in 1977. That broken man’s marriage and his
relationship with his children was – by God’s grace –
I know because I am that “broken man.”
“I’d rather have Jesus than anything… than to be a king
of a vast domain....”
Today, as I sing those words in concerts across the USA,
I’m reminded of the years of basking in ovations and
acclaim of huge crowds as I sang professional opera –
“living the good life.” One thing I learned from those
years: fame and fortune, without Jesus can never
fill the emptiness or satisfy the longing in a person’s
My testimony of salvation begins with my parents.
Despite the mid-depression years, my dad had a good job.
Life was good and stable…then, Mother upset that
stability.” Someone invited her to a church that met in
a small, rundown building. She went and gave her life to
Jesus! She was anxious for Dad to join her in her faith,
but he wanted nothing to do with a church that met ‘on
the other side of the tracks. She prayed…and finally,
two years later Dad went to church with her. That day he
not only met Jesus as Savior, but this man with no
church background felt God’s call to the ministry.
That call I had “blown” was revealed to my mother before
my birth. In the small church my father pastored, my
mother had been deeply touched as the gifted
five-year-old son of a visiting evangelist sang. She
felt the Lord impressing on her that she would have a
son who would be “a singer and bless many around the
How she needed that assurance during my teen years!
Even before I could talk, as I sat on the front bench at
church, I’d sing to the top of my voice right on key. My
family totally lived by faith, therefore it was not hard
for me to believe that Jesus really existed. I thought
He was actually a member of our family. At the age of
five I’d listen to Dad preaching the “old fashioned
gospel’ about sin, about Jesus dying for the sins of the
world, about death and judgment. But when he gave the
altar call, I’d grab hold of that bench with all my
strength. Even at that ‘tender’ age, I was not so
tender. My stubborn will refused to go forward. Thus
early on, I established a pattern that we humans are so
prone to – putting up barriers between God and us.
As children often do – I decided what I wanted to do
with my life. When eleven years old, I decided I’d be a
juvenile delinquent! I had a lot of talent for the job.
My parents suffered those next few years as they saw
their son constantly getting into trouble. When afraid
of being caught, I would pray, “Lord, don’t let anything
happen to me. I’ll become a Christian when I get really
In the church my father pastored, the youth “group”
consisted of one other boy and me. One day my father
called me into his study and bargained with me. “If
you’ll go to that large, Presbyterian church near us
every Sunday morning, evening and youth meeting every
Wednesday night, you won’t have to attend my church". I
gladly accepted his proposal. At that church, I learned
“how to put on the “holy-joe” outfit. Parents would say,
“Oh, Bill, I wish my son was as good a Christian as
you.” That went on for several years – years in which I
received tremendous Bible teaching, but I wasn’t a
Christian. In church, I posed as a Christian; out of
church, I was back into trouble.
I grew up knowing the consequences of my sin if I died.
It is appointed unto men once to die, but after that the
judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The wages of sin
is death (Romans 6:23) – eternal separation from
God and everything good. One day in the midst of my
teenage rebellion, God’s Spirit graphically reminded me
of that. I ran to the pastor’s office. There on my knees
I cried and begged the Lord to take away my sin. My
burden of sin was replaced with an indescribable peace.
For my final two years of high school, I attended a
Christian school. There I had the honor of being chosen
captain of the basketball team. But when chosen to sing
baritone in the school’s main, male quartet, I
considered that an even greater honor.
Following high school and starting a career job, my one
great desire was still to be a Gospel singer. In 1963,
my company sent me to Denver for further training. There
I was asked to serve as president of the career and
college class of the church I attended. The class
secretary was “the beautiful, Marie Ward….”
Marie and I married that year and moved to Seattle. The
music director of our church, Bud Tutmarc , a man
heavily involved in the city’s gospel music scene,
mentored me as we worked together.
In those years I had a compelling drive to share Jesus
Christ in song – always old time Gospel songs. Others,
studying and trying desperately to get into opera, sang
high classical selections, I would taunt with, “Why
don’t you sing real music?” Unfortunately, singing
gospel music – and because of my “church-going” habit –
made me feel more spiritual than other singers. Had I
taken inventory of my life, I would have realized that I
was losing my first love for Jesus – and becoming less
dependent on Jesus and more and more dependent on Bill
One night in discouragement, I prayed with Marie. My
prayer: “God, show us what You want to do with the voice
you’ve given me.”
The next morning Leonard Moore, Conductor of the Seattle
Chorale, phoned and asked me to sing tenor solo in a
Chorale concert. I was aware that the best singers in
the Seattle area sang with the Chorale.
I was elated! During rehearsal Leonard said to me,
“Where have you been? You have 20 times more potential
than these people you’re singing with.” The other three
soloists had master’s degrees, taught voice lessons at
University level, and sang professional opera. How
can I possibly be as good as that? I’ve never even
seriously studied voice.
I had always tended to ignore compliments about my
voice. But here was a man I held in high esteem telling
me, “You have got to do something with this voice.” I
felt God was saying, “You must do this.” But I wondered,
What did ‘this’ mean? And where would it lead him?
After the concert, local newspapers gave me tremendous
reviews. That encouraged me to do something. But
what? A small article in the newspaper caught my
attention. In five weeks the Metropolitan Opera would
hold auditions in Seattle. The age limit for tenors –
“no older than 30.”
That meant now or never for me. I’ll do it!
I decided. Leonard agreed to help me.
“How many arias do you know?” Leonard asked. “None,” I
“Well,” Leonard sighed, “you’ll have to work super hard
– but you can do it! You’ll need to master at least five
If mastering at least five arias wasn’t enough of a
challenge, Leonard also told me, “And you’ll have to
sing in three different languages.” From the public
library I checked out music and records of French,
Italian and English arias. Leonard helped me with
pronunciation and grammar. At home I practiced and
practiced for hours and hours….
But no one told me that I was supposed to know the
meaning of the words I sang. So at the audition, not
realizing I was singing a tragedy, I threw my arms
around, smiled and acted happy. The audience loved it!
It’s a sure thing, I thought, I’ve
But I was not one of the three chosen. A chorus of boos
from the audience brought the judge, the Metropolitan
Chorus master himself, on stage. “Ladies and gentlemen,
this is the voice I’ve been looking for,” he began, “but
this man knows nothing about what he’s doing. You people
must get behind him.”
Discouraged, I prayed, “Lord, this must not be what you
want for me.” Two days later the audition chairman
phoned saying that people in Seattle had raised $900 for
me to take voice lessons. And so it was that in 1971, I
began lessons with a former Metropolitan Opera star. In
the spring, after auditioning with the San Francisco
Opera, I was invited to go to San Francisco for
intensive training. That summer, I learned the Opera “La
Boheme” in seventeen days and sang the tenor lead for
22,000 people at the San Francisco Stern Grove.
Newspapers gave me rave reviews. And from there it was
all the way up! The head of the San Francisco Opera told
me, “I’ll do everything in my power to get you into
opera – if that’s what you want.”
I, “the self-appointed president of the
I-Hate-Opera-Society – gave a resounding, “Yes, that’s
what I want!”
Things happened fast after that. I quit my career job.
The opera raised $20,000 to get me started. I’d spend a
month of six to seven hour days in training, then go on
tour. Through the years, I sang with famous opera
singers – Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Birgit
Nilsson, Jerome Hines, and many others. Singing with
Beverly Sills resulted in international reviews.
I’ll be ‘salt’ to these needy people in the opera
world, I told myself. But that didn’t happen. I
was away from family – both my wife and children
and my Christian family, sometimes for a stretch
of eleven months. Instead of being a testimony to my
colleagues I adopted their lifestyle – even became a
leader. My living in sin broke Marie’s heart and was
fast breaking up our marriage. And I was also having
problems with our children. I found that “a person
cannot know the Light of the world and live in the
darkness of the world and be happy.”
In 1977, I sang the title role in the Opera, “Faust”.
Jerome Hines, the man I had made my debut with in the
Metropolitan Opera also sang in “Faust". And it was to
Jerome that I said, “I need to talk...”
I went home determined to fix up my life. I knew the
mechanical things to do: begin reading the Word again,
start fellowshipping with Christians, mend my marriage
and solve the problems with my children – stop sinning!
I tried and fell flat on my face. My endeavors resulted
in a three week depression so deep that I didn’t even
want to live. In that state, I did something that was
beyond my power. I called out to God, “You take it all –
my life, my voice, my career.” I had no assurance doing
that would give me back the love and respect of my wife
and children. But I didn’t bargain with God – I just
gave everything to Him.
That evening the Lord spoke to me. No writing on the
wall or thunder from Heaven, but I knew it was God
speaking. He impressed on me to go back to my first love
– singing Gospel songs. And still I had the audacity to
argue with Him. “Lord, how can I do that? When singing
gospel, sometimes I’d get $25, sometimes $100, sometimes
a handshake and a thank-you. I have five children and a
wife to support. And besides, I have no church contacts.
No one knows that years ago....” The Lord was silent. He
wasn’t impressed with my arguments. He had spoken!
The following Monday, a man from California phoned. “I
read in the San Francisco Examiner that you used to do
Gospel concerts....” Apologetically, he added, “Do you
think you could come to California and sing a gospel
I must have raised six inches out of my chair!
That week, five people called asking me to do Gospel
concerts. But more miraculously than that, the Lord
showed Himself as the Healer of depression, broken
hearts and broken relationships. He put our marriage
back together beautifully.
Today Marie travels with me in this faith ministry of
presenting the Lord Jesus in song. Since we have no
guarantee of salary, it’s exciting to look into the
future and say, “There’s no way, absolutely no way
whatsoever, we can meet our bills and eat too.” Yet the
Lord Jesus is on our side and has never failed us.
As we’re getting older, at times the wear and tear of
going out weekends is a bit tough. Sometimes I think,
If only we did normal things, we’d make more money and
have more time to ourselves. But the concerts
have become more than just a singing ministry. People
are blessed, some are saved, some are even healed. This
makes me know I can’t quit. Singing for the God of the
universe is far more exciting than it ever was singing
for the god of this puny little world.
I now realize that just as Romans 8:28 says, the Lord
has used all that happened in my life to allow me to
minister with music in a special way. Before going
through the opera experience, people would say to me,
“You have such a beautiful voice” – now they come with
tears in their eyes and tell me that God touched their
life through my singing and sharing. I consider that the
highest compliment anyone can receive.
Our travels lead us throughout the United States and
Canada. We have also had ten concerts in South Africa,
many trips to former Communist countries, also a very
dangerous trip to India. Many trips to prisons have also
been in our schedule.
Our heart is to use music as a tool to change hearts for
our Lord Jesus Christ.