Home > Our World > News > News - Recent Headlines
Deaf singer becomes 'word made flesh'


A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
May 8, 2009

William Suggs Jr. has never heard a single note of music or a beautiful voice singing a hymn. Yet his performance of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” will take your breath away.

Suggs, who was born profoundly deaf and is losing his eyesight, uses sign language to turn hymns into “holy signed dances.” He conveys his whole being in interpreting the spiritual essence of the song through movement.

“He becomes the music…his arms enfold and become ‘Sweet Little Jesus Boy,’ said Carol Stevens, deaf ministries coordinator at Christ United Methodist Church in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. “His powerful fists cut through the air to become God Almighty. He becomes the ‘word made flesh.’"

He has found a home at Christ Church. His first experiences with church were not so welcoming.

An invitation

As a young boy his family took him to their Baptist church but there was no interpreter and he did not understand what was going on.

“I was bored and didn’t want to go back,” he said.

Stevens sent an invitation to Suggs to come to Christ Church through a mutual friend, Nellie Horsey, in 2001.

“I was curious to see what worship at a deaf church looked like,” he said. “I saw the deaf choir and I liked that very much so I decided to go there every Sunday.”

Horsey introduced Suggs to sign singing. She asked for his help memorizing the sign language to a hymn.

“She studied and studied but couldn’t remember the interpretation,” he said. “She was shocked to see me (perform the song) and said that I signed it so beautifully.”

The following Sunday, Horsey told the choir director about Suggs. The director wasted no time getting him to lead hymns and sign solos.

“We do not use an organ or taped music because we are deaf,” Suggs said. “I love the big bass drum that we have for accompaniment because I am inspired by the vibrations that I feel from the drum.”

More success followed. In 2008, he melted thousands of hearts when he was front and center of the choir as they performed at The United Methodist General Conference, the international policy-making body of the denomination.

Most recently, he was one of the musical artists at the Easter Vigil service at Barratt’s Chapel in Delaware. He performed with John Thompson, the composer of the songs “El Shaddai” and “Sanctuary.”

“There was not a dry eye in the chapel as the congregation stomped their feet on the old wooden floors sending a vibratory applause for him to feel,” Stevens said.

Tender songbird

Suggs, 35, who stands 6 feet 4 inches, looks more like a football player than a tender songbird.

He said God touches his heart while he is sign singing and gives him inspiration.

“God gave me more ways to dramatize the song through signing and made my spirit stronger,” he said.

He takes the compliments and applause in stride. He knows what is really important.

“People tell me I am a ‘famous king’ as a talented signed music singer,” Suggs said. “But the most important thing that people say is that my music is beautiful and makes people more inspired by God, and causes them to cry and causes their heart to be touched.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Four Fun Questions

Q: What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you about your singing?
A: People tell me I am a “famous king” as a talented signed music singer. But the most important thing that people say is that my music is beautiful and makes people more inspired by God, and causes them to cry and causes their heart to be touched.

Q: What is your favorite church song?
A: My favorite is “How Great Thou Art,” but some people like “Holy, Holy, Holy” and Bishop Peggy Johnson likes “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.”

Q: Do you sing in the shower?
A: Don’t sing in shower but I often sign sing when I lay down on my mattress. Before I was blind I worked at Social Security Administration and I would often sing in the restroom. I sing in people’s cars … anywhere.

Q: What song is most fun for you to sign (karaoke is not a deaf experience for him)?
A: “Worthy True”

Video

Suggs performing Easter vigil at historic Barratt's Chapel 

Suggs performing with Christ UMC of the Deaf at GC2008

Related Articles

‘Singing angels’ share gifts with church

What about United Methodists who can’t sing?

Music director feels God’s presence in every note

Performer relies on gospel music and God’s promises

Pastor upholds singing legacy that began in 19th-century burlesque halls

Joy of music is constant in choir director’s life

Singers answer five fun questions

Susan Boyle’s voice lifts her beyond stereotype

Analysis: Singer teaches us how to love our neighbor

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

Phone
(optional)

*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW

Contact Us

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

Phone
(optional)

*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add InfoServ@umcom.org to your list of approved senders.