By Luana M. Graves Sellars

Photo Credit: Mike Ritterbeck

When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.”

Malala Yousafzai

When it came to soul-stirring gospel music, on Hilton Head, the resounding memory that people have, always includes Mary Ford, who passed away a few years ago. Her incredible memory continues to live on because she was a woman who touched people with her generous heart and her spirit-filled, God-given voice. Known affectionately as the “Rain Lady,” Mary Ford was one of the best-known voices on the island; her voice was soul-piercing, and it lifted and carried her listeners anywhere she chose to take them.  With or without musical instruments as backup, for over 60 years, Mary had been belting out her earthy alto tones with heartfelt joy while she gave her community the beautiful gift of music. 

Mary adopted the vocal style of Mahalia Jackson, and became well known for her popular hand clapping and foot-stomping rendition of the song “Didn’t It Rain.” It became an island favorite that brought audiences to their feet.

She was one of the original gospel singers on the island who would lead songs in church and the devotional service.  The songs that she sang have a traditional old-time sound to it that brought back the sounds of the past. When you heard her sing, her voice had a way of making you feel her faith and know what the Lord has done for her.”

Michael Major, Native Islander

Mary Ford’s life was tied to her church. Over sixty-three years ago, she joined the St. James Baptist Church where she served as one of the Senior Church Mothers, which meant that she is a designated ‘Mother’ to the entire church. Her pastor, Reverend Dr. Charles Hamilton Sr. says she is “a positive and strong role model for younger members and the voice of wisdom.” When she speaks, “everyone is silent,” he says. According to her pastor, Mary Ford had his utmost respect, as well as the respect of the entire congregation that she has served for so long. Mary Ford “deserves all of the honor and praise that she could be given,” says Dr. Hamilton.

Mary Ford was a Gullah woman who was born on Hilton Head long before the bridge connected the island to the mainland and when life was simple. A child of farmers, Viola and Isaiah Murray Sr., she grew up respecting the land and learning how to make use of the island’s natural resources on the land and in its surrounding waters. She mastered the art of quilting by watching her mother and aunts. For over 50 years, she made quilts in the traditional sea island style.  Educated in a one-room schoolhouse, she went on to work for the Hilton Head Regional Medical Center for 25 years on the Dietary Staff.  At 22, she married Clarence Ford, who was also a singer, and together they had six children. Her son, Herbert Ford, gives her the highest tribute when he says, “my mother is known for being a compassionate, caring Christian whose love is unconditional.” 

Known for bringing the increible gifts of faith and song to the lowcountry, Mary Ford was an extraordinary addition to our community who will always be missed.

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