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Remembering Faculty Member Armsted Christian

armstedDear colleagues,

“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.

Sincerely,

Jay Kennedy
Vice President for Academic Affairs/Vice Provost

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8 Comments

  1. Terri Lyne Carrington

    I am truly saddened and still in shock. Armsted was one of the most beautiful souls I have ever known. He always went further than the extra mile and was a great example of how to truly live, consistently contributing to the “good” of life. He brightened and heightened every room he walked in. I will forever love and miss Bunny (Armsted)…. Terri Lyne

  2. Teodros Kiros

    May God embrace this extraordinary human being to his beautiful place where in no pain but eternal joy.

    African Ascent’s lead theme was a gift written for me by the hands of this brilliant muscian, and that he will always be present everytime we go on air and beyond me for generations to come.

    I thank his beautiful wife for sharing this wonderful man with African Ascent, when I interviewed again with BNN and she was there with us. I hope she remembers me. I would like her to know that I will pay homage to me when I go on air in February.

  3. Teodros Kiros

    May God embrace this extraordinary human being to his beautiful place where is in no pain but eternal joy.

    African Ascent’s lead theme was a gift written for me by the hands of this brilliant musician, and that he will always be present everytime we go on air and beyond me for generations to come.

    I thank his beautiful wife for sharing this wonderful man with African Ascent, when I interviewed him again with BNN and she was there with us. I hope she remembers me. I would like her to know that I will pay homage to him when I go on air in February.

  4. Harry Skoler

    I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Armsted one day auditioning applicants. Although it was a short time, I left feeling that I knew him as a friend… He was open, kind, gentle, and listened to me as we conversed… He listened with his whole self. This day made my life better. Whenever he’d see me, he was smiling and always uplifting… I am saddened by his loss, and will keep him inside my heart. A gentle, sensitive and compassionate person he was…

  5. Bill Pierce

    Armstead and I lived in a brownstone in Roxbury for 6 or so years. During that time he also studied saxophone with me at Berklee. The house was a great place of music due to the fact that everybody who lived there was connected to music. Keith Copeland and his father Ray owned the building. We had a marvelous time. I got to know Bunny well and we remained friends from that time on. He was a member of the community of musicians that I still feel an undying sense of brotherhood. We were brothers, all of us. Rest in peace brother Bunny.

  6. Nichelle J Mungo

    Words cannot begin to describe the knot in my stomach right now…..I’m sure all who knew Armsted feel this very same knot as just 7 days ago, he wrote a note saying he was feeling much better, the docs had found the right meds, he was out of ICU…..then BAM…..2:22 this afternoon, we read otherwise…..tears have not ceased to fall and I just want to hug everyone I know that knew and loved him. When the mention of Armsted is had in our community, smiles automatically illuminate as he is father, brother, cousin, friend, mentor, confident, prayer partner and jovial soul to everyone! – always putting his needs second to everything and everyone else. He is the epitome of what it means to “Let your light shine.” Having a beautiful blood family of his own, Armsted somehow had this uncanny ability to entreat everyone as if we were of equal significance. His guidance/leadership, encouraging and empowering words will forever be cherished – not to mention times of our traveling from East to West Everywhereoverthereville to see each other perform. Most memorable are those times he and his family would come to see us with Phil Perry as well as his own awesome birthday celebrations. The music, people, and vibes were so live each time. Armsted was fresh air to life!!! He presented his flo’ology class to the Berklee faculty this time last year and not expecting to say anything during, he stops me when entering the room and says: “Nichelle, I need for you to share your wisdom today.” …….. just nodding and chuckling on, he stops me mid sentence and says again: “Nichelle I need for you to share your wisdom today.” Prior to his presentation, we had been in dialog about the state of the industry, music education in this present time, and maintaining who we are as artists. I was last to speak and when I finished, tears were falling from his eyes. He gave the look only a father could and said: “You are obligated to share this wherever you go and I expect you to do just that!” I will sir, I will!! Breathe sweetly in Him dear Armsted as when you took your last breath on earth, you took your first in heaven. Suffering is no more and your legacy will live on in all of us!! ♡

  7. Brianne Bogle

    Goodness, really sad to hear about the passing of a wonderful person, and incredible musician, Armsted Christian.
    He was a beautiful person, kind mentor, and inspirational teacher. He had a way of getting us in touch with the soul of the song, and we had to reach into our own souls to do that. He was a gift. As a teacher he was very generous and encouraged us to grow.

    I had the privilege of benefiting from your wisdom as a vocal coach while I was at Berklee, and the incredible fortune of having you as a producer of my song, “Dangerous,” which was the first song I ever recorded for a movie.

    Dearest Amsted, your soul will live on in the hearts of your students, friends, family and loved ones, and in the many musical works you contributed to in your lifetime. Thank you for everything. God Bless you, my friend. You will be missed. … Now that your at peace and with our Lord Jesus, please put in a good word for me. 🙂

    Love, Brianne

  8. Marici Pina-Christian

    Its comforting to my family to see the abundant love that my husband gave to so many over flowing as many of you so passionately express your sentiment and memories of him, He would be so humbled as that was his way, Know that he passed with these words, I have found my purpose, I am complete, I am excited over what God has in store for me. I have no burdens, I am free. I am good. Armsted said that to me the day the breathing tube was taken out of his throat in ICU. He had a glow around him., He breathed deeper than he had in years and there was no wheezing when he spoke. He played his flute the day he died and did voice drills. He was immensely happy. I believe Armsted had a divine encounter and knew where he was headed. Many of the messages he sent out that week indicated that, We were all blessed to have him in our lives for as long as we did. He lives in our hearts, to all who loved him. Armsted was always working and there is more music and written word to come. His legacy will indeed live on. Thank you for loving him as he loved so many of you. Thank you for the blanket of love that warms the hearts of me and our family. In honoring him we must all stay in the light.
    Lovingly,
    Marci Pina-Christian

    My sincere thanks to Roger Brown and the Berklee family that attended the funeral service. He loved his profession, colleagues and students. Tomorrow has been promised to no one we only have today. Armsted never wasted a day his lived his live to the fullest.
    Peace and Light,
    Marci Pina-Christian

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