Bay Area lyric tenor John Patton, Jr. passed away on April 18 in his Richmond home. The oldest of eight children, he was born on Feb. 18, 1930 in Garland City, Ark., on a sharecrop farm to sharecropping parents. At the age of 6, he knew he wanted to be a singer and pursued his dream and love of music when he moved to Richmond with his parents in 1944.
Patton attended El Cerrito High School in El Cerrito and excelled at football, track, debate, choir activities, and academics. He was an honor society member.
Patton had the distinctions of studying voice with the great tenor Roland Hayes, the renowned choral conductor, composer, and arranger Hall Johnson, and the famed New Orleans singer, arranger, and composer Edward Boatner.
He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1965 and performed spirituals, art songs, and classical works professionally for almost 60 years. A high point in his singing career was his giving a concert on the Vatican Radio in St. Peter’s Square in Rome for the Pope in 1970. Patton was a former member of the Hall Johnson Choir, the world famous Wings Over Jordan choir, the Jester Hairston Chorus, and the Albert McNeil Singers.
Locally, he was once a member of William “Bill” Bell’s Oakland Bay Area Community Chorus. He was the first to publish an album of art songs arranged by African-American composers and arrangers.
He was a voice coach, scholar, lecturer, and an authority on the negro spirituals heritage, which he revered. For a while, he was a construction worker on the 580 Freeway and a warehouseman.
He was once the popular host of a radio show in Los Angles. He performed the role of Shug Avery’s father, “The Preacher,” in The Color Purple.
Quick-witted, Patton genuinely enjoyed joking around, laughing, and talking about his vast storehouse of life experiences.
John Patton, Jr. is survived by his son, three daughters, three granddaughters, two grandsons, two brothers, two sisters, a host of nieces and nephews, an ex-wife, and scores of friends in his community and across the nation.›