Common Chords By Randall Hill
Otis Windley is all smiles as he walks down the center aisle on a Sunday in early December at his home church of St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church in the Burgess community.
Surrounded by supporters and friends from the community’s churches, Windley was honored with a tribute service for his years of contributions to gospel music in the area. For example, with the help of other church members, he established the Burgess community Boys Club. And after he provides the music his church on Sunday, he travels to other churches to do the same.
“I was overwhelmed by the support of the community,” he said, smiling widely after the service.
The Burgess native and New York-educated musician sat in the front pew beside his brother George Windley, Sr., and was treated to riveting tributes in song during the two-hour service.
At times you could feel the music through the church floor as attendees tapped their feet and clapped their hands to the beat. Otis Windley sat back and took it all in, swaying in his seat and singing with the music.
Windley graduated from Socastee High School, then moved in with older sisters in New York and graduated from Bronx Community College. He worked and lived in New York City for more than 18 years before moving home in 1990.
“When I was little, I’d go on the front porch of the wooden home we were living and improvised a keyboard on the window ledge,” he said.
Later, in elementary school, he would beg the music teacher to let him play a real piano and she finally relented and let him learn to play.
“I was called into work at the church as their musician and choir director,” he said, his hands resting gently on a keyboard in front of him. “That was a privilege and that growth kept me going. I still enjoy the time with the choirs, I have four I work with. A different choir every Sunday.
Click here to see a gallery of still images from Otis Windley's Appreciation Day at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church on December 5, 2010
Watch a music-only video of Otis Windley performed for Common Chords