Thousands sang for him in long career
Benjamin Hutto, a musician, composer, mentor and teacher of music who directed choirs at St. Albans and National Cathedral schools in Washington and led his singers on local and international concert tours, died Sept. 29 at a hospice center in Washington. He was 67.
The cause was gall bladder cancer, said a sister and his only immediate survivor, Catherine B. Hutto of Silver Spring, Md.
For 16 years, Mr. Hutto had been on the St. Albans and National Cathedral staffs as chief of performing arts. Since 2006, he had also been organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, where he later became director of music ministries. As a composer, he wrote Anglican chants for the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church of the United States.
But he left what may have been his most enduring mark as a voice and choir teacher and personal counselor to thousands of youngsters who sang for him over a 45-year career. One of them was Stephen Colbert, host of CBS’s “Late Show.”
More than 30 years ago, Colbert was a junior at the Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, S.C., where Mr. Hutto was his choir teacher. At the time, Colbert was a self-described “troubled kid.”
On Sept. 11 — less than three weeks before Mr. Hutto died — Colbert remembered his former teacher on his nightly television show.
“You actually took me aside and asked me: ‘ Why don’t you ever study? . . . And you won’t respond to any teachers who try to help you,’ ” Colbert told a national audience. “And I said, ‘Your job is to teach me to sing, and that is it!’ ”
Then Colbert stalked out of Mr. Hutto’s office.
“I apologize, and I love you and thank you for trying to help me,” Colbert declared on television.
William Benjamin Hutto III was born in Charleston on Oct. 4, 1947. He was 5 when his father, who managed a radio station, died. His mother later held secretarial jobs.
He graduated in 1968 from Emory University in Atlanta. The next year, he became an English teacher and director of choral music at Porter-Gaud, his high school alma mater. He would remain there until 1985, when he moved to Charlotte as organist and choirmaster at Christ Episcopal Church. In 1999, he came to St. Albans and National Cathedral schools.
At the schools on the grounds of Washington National Cathedral, Mr. Hutto increased participation in the choral program from 18 voices when he arrived to nearly 200. He led his singers on tours to Australia, South Africa, several countries in South America and to cities across the United States. His choirs sang at White House Christmas tree lightings.
“Ben was a true renaissance man and game for absolutely anything,” wrote Washington actress Catherine Flye, who worked with him in productions of the Cathedral Choral Society.
In an e-mail, she recalled that “I asked him once if he would sing and dance in an entertainment for the Supreme Court. There was no hesitation, and I shall never forget him, with a bowler hat and rolled umbrella, tripping the light fantastic with gay abandon as a peer in Iolanthe.”
Mr. Hutto lived in an apartment in the Kalorama area of Northwest Washington. During the “snowmageddon” winter of 2010, he enjoyed sliding on cafeteria trays down the nearby snow-covered slopes of Rock Creek Park. His avocations included cooking, especially such Low Country South Carolina dishes as okra gumbo.
“Music is, I believe, one of the church’s great missionary opportunities,” Mr. Hutto once wrote in a letter to his former church in Charlotte. “In its transmission, it has meaning for the faithful, for the faithless, and for those who have lost their faith.
“It is a mission,” he continued, “whose spirit can be expressed in the home, by the family singing Christmas carols, or in the most magnificent ecclesiastical structure, by a highly trained choir. It knows no social, intellectual, or sectarian barriers. It expresses our loftiest ideals, our deepest emotions. It is one of the gifts of God which reminds us that we are above the other creatures of earth, but lower than angels.”
For 16 years, Benjamin Hutto had been on the staffs at St. Albans and National Cathedral schools as the chief of performing arts.