MOBILE, Ala. – When Roger Breland took the first step down the road toward a career in Christian music, he had no idea what a remarkable journey it would be.
In 47 years, he traveled more than 4 million miles across 47 countries, presented over 12,000 concerts and produced 100 albums. His 31 years with TRUTH, among the first widely successful contemporary Christian groups, helped launch the careers of artists such as Avalon and 4Him.
Breland spent the subsequent 16 years on the road with Voices of Mobile, an ensemble he co-founded with Al Miller, dean of the University of Mobile's Alabama School of the Arts. Breland and Miller led an expansion of the Alabama Baptist university's music program that includes its first doctoral degree in musical arts. Along with faculty whose expertise ranges from opera to worship leadership, they have prepared hundreds of graduates to pursue their professional calling as musicians, educators, worship leaders, missionaries, music industry professionals and music ministers.
When Voices of Mobile wraps up its final tour on July 7, assistant director Collin Clardy, who is pursuing a master's degree in theology, will become the ensemble's director. Clardy's wife Hannah will continue as road music director.
This academic year alone, Voices of Mobile will have presented 150 concerts, including appearances in Cuba, Romania and England. Breland has traveled half a million miles with the ensemble, presenting 2,000 concerts across 12 nations, while recording 16 albums.
This fall, Breland will transition to executive director of Voices of Mobile and pursue another dream – establishing the Roger Breland Endowed Scholarship to help coming generations have a Christ-centered education. In his new role, he will assist in fundraising for scholarships and special projects, while continuing to assist in the Roger Breland Center for Performing Arts at the university's Alabama School of the Arts.
With his touring career drawing to a close, Breland's lifetime of accomplishments will be recognized May 11 when University of Mobile awards him an honorary doctor of humane letters. Among other accolades Breland has received: He and TRUTH were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
But his greatest accomplishment isn't in the number of miles traveled or concerts performed.
It's in the message he has taught students.
"There's really only one song to sing, and that is the song that will honor God. We want to do that with excellence," Breland said in an interview. And it's not enough, he tells students, to simply believe the song's words.
"The bottom line for people who live our life on the platform in ministry is not that you believe what you sing," he said. "The most important thing is that you live what you sing. I want students to know that what they do involves so much more than music."
UM Interim President Fred Wilson said Breland's "obedience to taking the message of Christ all over the world with music" reflects the heart of students and faculty across the university to serve Christ.
"We'll really never know the impact it's had this side of heaven," Wilson said. "Voices of Mobile and other ensembles have taken the message of Christ, as well as the message of University of Mobile, to congregations around the world."
UM graduate Andrew Goodwin said Breland practices what he preaches. Goodwin is among several alumni who form the male vocal group Veritas that has toured internationally with Sandi Patty and performs in churches and concert halls.
"I would not be who I am today if it were not for the influence Dr. Breland has had on my life," Goodwin said. "He has had the single greatest impact on my career as an artist and taught me the importance of the 'small things.' Everything I know about being a successful musician, teacher, husband, father, leader and friend I learned, not from listening to, but from watching Dr. Breland."
Breland and his wife Linda, whom he credits as a "prayer warrior" partner, shared their lives with more than 400 Voices of Mobile members whose college years included the long hours and high expectations it takes to be a member of the ensemble.
Breland's career began in serving small rural churches in Alabama during his college years. Following graduation from Troy University, he served as choral director at Opp High School and minister of music at First Baptist Church of Opp. His full-time church ministry was at Spring Hill Baptist Church in Mobile before forming TRUTH. In 2002 he joined UM as artist-in-residence, served as co-founder and director of Voices of Mobile and was named dean and later executive dean of the Roger Breland Center for Performing Arts.
He delights in using his extensive network of contacts in ministry and Christian music to open doors for students and graduates. Most recently, a student looking for a short-term job and housing expressed her concern to Breland, saying she would go anywhere an opportunity presented itself – even Alaska. That's exactly where she went – Breland called a music minister in Alaska and found her a position.
When Breland accepts his honorary doctorate, Voices of Mobile will be on the platform with him, singing a song he finds most appropriate for a lifetime of music and ministry: "God is Able."
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.