Former members of the youth choir paid tribute to their old director. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)
Former members of the youth choir paid tribute to their old director. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)

The stained glass sanctuary of Foundry United Methodist Church was filled with sweet melodies as generations of singers and directors took time to honor Frances Louise Prince. 

In life, Prince, who died at age 82, shuttled between sanctuaries to stages across Washington, D.C. While she was caring, many singers said that at a moment’s notice, she could put the fear of God in a wayward voice.

“We come together to celebrate the life of one who has touched so many,” said the Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli, Foundry’s pastor, during the memorial service for Prince, who died on March 31 of natural causes. 

Frances Louise Smith was born on Sept. 19, 1940, in Little Rock, Arkansas, to the late Louis N. Smith Sr. and Marlene N. Smith. Throughout her life, music, education and performing played significant roles. 

At the age of 15, Prince became the organist at her family’s place of worship, Bethel AME Church in Little Rock, where she served until graduating from Horace Mann High School, also in Little Rock. 

Prince earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from Howard University. While attending Howard University, she toured 19 countries throughout Latin America with the famous Howard University Choir under the auspices of the U.S. Cultural Exchange Program and the Department of State.  

As a senior at Howard, Prince was selected to participate as a pianist in a Voice of America program, filmed at the Department of State to be presented overseas. She met Norman Prince on tour in 1961. They became friends and married on Nov. 9, 1963, in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

Prince taught vocal music in the District of Columbia Public School System for four decades. In 1975, she served as an accompanist and a director of the City-Wide Junior High Chorus at the annual “All-City Choral Music Festival.”  

During her career, she taught at Woodson Junior High, Kramer Junior High, Rabaut Junior High and Fletcher Johnson Middle School. She also was the principal coordinator of the D.C. Public Schools Honors Chorus, which was established by the Master Chorale of Washington.  

The memorial service was filled with music that extended from a saxophonist playing “His Eyes is On the Sparrow” to the Foundry Chancel Choir featuring sopranos Angeli Ferrette and Yolanda Denise Bryant singing “I Waited For the Lord.” 

Bryant, a gifted opera singer, said in an interview, “When I first decided to move here she called me down in North Carolina. She let me know that I was loved.” 

During her tenure at Foundry, Prince directed the church’s youth choir and many came back as adults to sing for the commemoration. 

One choir member said, “She loved us but she could put fear in your heart.” 

Former choir members sang “I Believe” and choir director Stanley Thurston said directing the choirs was special because Prince was “a wonderful mentor, supporter, and second mom to me.” 

 As her only child, Alison Prince said her mother was tough in terms of music. 

“She made me memorize Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.” But when it came to her grandson, Trent Crawford, “He was the apple of her eye.” 

Howard University professor Ravi K. Perry took note of the diverse audience filled with singers and music educators like former Howard University Choir director Ned Lewis to Joyce Garrett, former director of the Eastern High School Choir. 

Gaines-Cirelli said the church’s fellowship hall is named after Norman and Frances Prince for a reason. 

“They were the first African American members of Foundry… They were healers of a hurtful past and they will never be forgotten.”

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *