“I challenge students to think for themselves and be accountable for their own learning. It’s very personal. Even in a class of 15 or so, I tell my students, ‘The same rules I give you, I use myself. Strive for excellence. Don’t let your minimum become your maximum.”
The words above come from Armsted Christian, professor in the Voice Department, and it is with great sadness that I write to tell you that Armsted passed away suddenly on the morning of Monday, January 4 after a long battle with sarcoidosis, a condition that affected his lungs and caused severe scarring of his lung tissue. This is truly shocking, since only one week ago, Armsted wrote from the hospital that he was feeling much better and making wonderful progress back to wellness. At that time, Armsted also wrote, “I am forever humbled by the power of LOVE.”
Armsted was a Berklee alumnus and taught at Berklee for 16 years, starting in 1999. He previously taught at New England Conservatory of Music and was the former multicultural education coordinator at the University of Massachusetts.
Donna McElroy, Voice Department professor, notes, “Armsted was my brother. It’s as if we had grown up together; we had the same style, and same sense of humor and family. He was a tremendously talented and creative person who didn’t think outside of the box because he didn’t think there was a box. He was a beautiful human being and his passing is a huge loss.”
During his Berklee tenure, Armsted taught many private instruction students, as well as a variety of courses, including Vocal Sight Reading Techniques, Rhythm Section Grooves for Voice, Studio Techniques for the Background Singer, Beginning Improvisation for Singers, and his unique and very popular course Flo’ology: Spoken Word and Improvisation.
Recent Berklee alumna Jess Newham ‘13 (better known by her artist name, Betty Who) shares a sentiment many students feel about Armsted, pointing to his ongoing influence and commenting, “Armsted was like my Berklee dad. He took me under his wing and really made me realize why I was at Berklee, and why I do what I do, and why I love it so much.”
Maureen McMullan, assistant chair of the Voice Department, writes that she had the privilege of having Armsted as her private voice teacher when she was a student at Berklee, and then as a mentor and trusted friend after graduation. “Armsted built a welcoming, challenging, and inclusive learning environment while holding himself to the highest standard of accountability as an artist and educator,” McMullan says. She shares a note that Armsted wrote her featuring a few candid words about his students and colleagues at Berklee. He wrote, in part, “I know that God loves me…it is evidenced by the beautiful souls I am fortunate enough to be around.”
During his long career, Armsted worked with some of music’s finest artists, including Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Freddie Jackson, Regina Carter, and many more. He led his own group, Peaceful Flight, which he launched in the 1970s, and was a member of the Will Downing Group and the Gerald Albright Group. He won SESAC songwriting awards in adult contemporary/R&B and smooth jazz categories, and his songwriting credits include the Grammy-nominated “All the Man You Need” with Downing. He also wrote the theme song for the NAACP documentary House on Fire, which debuted in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 1999, his solo album, The Wave Is Coming, was released by Manhattan-based label Siam Records. Additionally, he founded and served as CEO of Nactivity Music, which specialized in songwriting, production, and arranging in nearly all styles of music. He also founded a nonprofit organization: the Armsted R. Christian Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research, which is committed to making a positive difference in education about and treatment of sarcoidosis while serving as a multi-dimensional resource for those living with it.
Anne Peckham, chair of the Voice Department, shares these closing thoughts: “Amsted Christian made an indelible impression on every student, faculty member, and everyone else he encountered. It is hard to imagine Berklee or the Voice Department without him. He was always inspirational, optimistic, and to me, he personified dignity and grace. He was a light of hope to all of us—encouraging, supporting, and leading us by example, even when he was very ill. He leaves behind a rich legacy and I hope that we will all try to meet the challenge to carry on with his spirit in our hearts and minds.”
The funeral service will be held on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. at the International Church of the Nazarene, located at 286 Pleasant St. in New Bedford. Visiting hours will be held on Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Saunders-Dwyer Home for Funerals, located at 495 Park St. in New Bedford. For directions and guestbook, visit saundersdwyer.com.
Read Armsted’s obituary to learn more about his life and accomplishments.
I invite you to share your stories and memories of Armsted Christian in the comments.
Vice President for Academic Affairs/Vice Provost