UPDATED July 2, 2022, at 1:00 p.m. ET
“Some people have a dream to do something special and then they work and plan and negotiate and just keep pressing and twisting arms until enough people say ‘Yes!’ They do what they dreamed. This was Pastor Walter Arties and his dream — Breath of Life!” said evangelist and Pastor Henry M. Wright. “We will all long remember [C.D.] Brooks, [Walter L.] Pearson, [Carlton P.] Byrd, and now [Debleaire] Snell. But the one who lit the candle and lit up the screen with the gospel presented in a fresh setting was a young man who had a voice emanating from vocal chords clothed in velvet. A special talent, a gentleman. Thank you, Walter Arties. Your dream has blessed us all.”
The dreamer, the man with the velvet vocals, Walter Eugene Arties III, passed away in Phoenix, Arizona, on June 26, 2022, at age 80. “He died Sunday at 11:02 a.m. from an acute neurological condition,” according to his attending physicians Dr. James Kyle and Dr. Jon McIver. “He was in the hospital several weeks before he succumbed.”
“Walter Arties was a visionary. He was a bold, courageous and yet gentle giant who walked among us,” said G. Alexander Bryant, North American Division president. “He led in the blockbuster idea that the Seventh-day Adventist Church needed to have in its gospel arsenal a TV program targeted to a Black audience. As a result of his untiring efforts, Breath of Life was born and tens of thousands will be in the kingdom. This church’s witness and light has shone brighter as a result of this great man of faith and unparalleled vision.”
“Through the decades, Breath of Life has been a great blessing to people of all backgrounds. Yet for people of color, it was revolutionary in many ways,” said Maurice Valentine, newly elected General Conference vice president and former NAD vice president for media ministries. “Most certainly the Lord provided the vision to a bleeding-edge visionary in Elder Arties to start the first coast-to-coast TV ministry for people of color by any faith community. Walter served as director of the ministry while C.D. Brooks served as its first speaker. Though he sang on the BOL telecast, Arties’ ministry goes far beyond. He could be heard on radio and television religious broadcasts of other faith communities. Every Sabbath morning, his records were listened to in the homes of many people groups around the globe.”
A PK With Dreams Leads to Global Ministry
Walter Eugene Arties III was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 12, 1941, to Walter Eugene Arties Jr. and Catherine Arties. He was a pastor’s kids (PK). His father was a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Greenville, Mississippi, but thought it best to go north for better medical facilities in the “Steel City.” They stayed with family in Pittsburg until their son was born.
Arties had two older sisters, Elvira and Otyvee (both deceased). As was customary for ministers’ families they were always on the move — Mississippi to Tennessee to Alabama to Connecticut, and finally to New York City. At 19 Walter left the Big Apple to go west to the city of dreams, Los Angeles, and he became a member of the University Seventh-day Adventist Church in LA in 1962. He formed a contemporary a-cappella chorale that concertized regularly and performed for worship services and special public events. He met a young woman, Beverly R. DeShay of Columbus, Ohio, and they were married May 31, 1964.
The six-day Watts uprising of August 1965 sparked the dream that had been tossing around in Arties’ head. Watts was a low-income Black community that reacted to the unjust arrest of a young African American motorist. Rioting, looting, and violence followed and 34 people were killed, more than a thousand injured, almost 4,000 arrested and property damage was upward of $40 million. Arties felt that something had to be done to bring hope and new life to Watts and African Americans in general. The vision to develop a ministry to reach the Black community was born at that time. The idea of a program of religious music and preaching, he felt, could rejuvenate this troubled city. Walter dreamed of this kind of program and began laying plans to implement this dream.
In the early 1970s Walter found himself on the staff of KHOF Radio and Television Network. His new position brought him into contact with Bill Bright, the president of Campus Crusade for Christ International. Bright asked Arties to sing at Expo ‘72 in Dallas. More than 100,000 enthusiastic young people packed the Cotton Bowl stadium when he stood up to sing on opening night. Arties was surprised when he finished to see evangelist Billy Graham stand up to preach the keynote address. The two developed a mutual respect. Graham asked Arties what he did when not with the crusade team. “I told him I was a Seventh-day Adventist, trying to start a gospel program for African Americans,” Arties said.
Graham replied, “Everywhere I go in the world, I see your hospitals, churches, and schools. Your church is doing a wonderful work.”
A pilot program for the proposed TV program was developed and approved by the leadership of the Southern California Conference. After the pilot was aired on KHOF, Arties was invited to a communications advisory at Hinsdale Sanitarium where he showed his concept. The world leaders approved it and recommended Charles D. Brooks to serve as the speaker. Brooks accepted the position and the first BOL programs were aired in 1974.
During the early years of Brooks’ tenure as speaker, a quartet was organized to provide music for the program. This original quartet was composed of Arties, first tenor, who also served as program producer/coordinator; Clyde Allen, second tenor and a contractor by trade, who used his various talents to oversee the mechanics of the stage and to operate the sound system; Shelton Kilby, baritone and gifted accompanist, who accepted the responsibility of directing the music; and James Kyle, M.D., who sang bass and also served as field services director for public relations and the Bible school. As time progressed, Reginald Robinson served as associate speaker and different members sang in the quartet. During the 24-year period of Brooks’ leadership, 13 churches bearing the name “Breath of Life” were born and more than 11,000 persons were baptized.
Arties was ordained to the gospel ministry on Sabbath, April 24, 1982, during the annual Black Convocation of the Southern California Conference at Lynwood Academy. Pastor C. D. Brooks, then a general field secretary of the General Conference as well as speaker for Breath of Life, preached the ordination sermon. The Breath of Life Quartet offered appropriate musical selections. Also present at the service were Catherine Arties, Elvira Arties, and Otyvee Dyer— Arties’ mother and sisters.
In 1998, Walter L. Pearson Jr. became the speaker for Breath of Life, and continued the legacy begun by Arties and Brooks. “Experience the Power,” the 2004 BOL campaign, was uplinked to approximately 1,100 sites in North America, with another 1,000 in the Caribbean and tens of thousands around the globe, resulting in more than 4,000 individuals baptized.
At the close of 2010, the mantle of leadership for BOL was passed to Carlton P. Byrd. Since the beginning of Byrd’s tenure as speaker/director, more than 20,000 souls have been baptized through Breath of Life’s evangelistic efforts, including the massive 2020 evangelistic campaign in Tanzania, Africa, where 16,806 individuals were baptized. Additionally, four new Breath of Life churches were planted.
In 2021 when Byrd accepted a call to the Southwest Region Conference to serve as president, the South Central Conference Executive Committee voted to assign Pastor Debleaire Snell to serve the Oakwood University Church as its 22nd senior pastor, and as speaker/director of Breath of Life Ministries.
Extraordinary Singer, Humble Servant
Arties had a unique and captivating singing style. He combined rare musical artistry with a spiritual sensitivity seldom encountered. You knew he loved Jesus when he sang. He had a smooth and effortless Johnny Mathis style — as described by some. To the delight and amazement of his audiences, Arties could hold a note for several measures — seemingly forever. Enhancing his vocal skills was the piano artistry of his long-time accompanist Myrna Matthews Haynes, who also toured with him.
Christians of every denomination wanted to hear more of Arties, and he recorded more than a dozen inspirational albums, including "Peace," "I'm Gonna Sing," "Softly and Tenderly," "Almost Over," "Gentle Exhortations," "Sincerely Yours," "Spirituals Collection," and "Hymns Collection," which won a Religion in Media Award. Add to that the albums he co-produced with Shelton Kilby for the Breath of Life Quartet ("Plenty Good Room," "Spirituals," and "Ghetto Child") and his celebrated Walter Arties Chorale ("His Name Is Wonderful," "Jewels of Faith," "Morning Train," and "Christmas Medley").
“Elder Walter Arties was a gift from God to the Adventist Church. In addition to his God-given musical gifts and exemplary Christian deportment, Elder Arties was a true visionary who saw beyond the present and recognized the need to impact the future. Forty-eight years ago what began as a fledgling idea has now grown into an international television broadcast (Breath of Life) that has led countless individuals to Jesus Christ! On Wikipedia, ‘vision’ is defined as ‘the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.’ That was Walter Arties,” said Byrd.
“Globally enjoyed, his stratospheric tenor voice and incredible range was revolutionary, … but his best attribute was not what he did for his church, but how he reflected the humble character of Christ to the world,” added Valentine. “Forty-five years ago, I noticed that he was willing to pull up a chair and sing in the camp meeting choir. Despite being an Adventist musical artist extraordinaire as his name implies, nothing was too lowly for Elder Arties to do for his Master and Savior. Our hearts go out to his wife Beverly and the extended Arties family and, yes, the world church, as we grieve the loss of this giant of faith in Jesus.”
Arties is survived by wife Beverly, and two nieces, Ethelda and Arlene Dyer. A memorial service is scheduled for August 7, 2022 at 1 p.m. at the Oakwood University Church. Condolences may be sent to: Breath of Life Ministries, c/o Amalia Dugal, P.O. Box 5960, Huntsville, AL 35814. In lieu of flowers: please send donations to Breath of Life Ministries (same address above).
— DeWitt S. Williams, retired since 2010, worked five years in the General Conference Communication department and five in the GC Temperance department before spending the last 20 years of his career as director of the NAD Health Ministries department. Special thanks to Clarence Brown, Benjamin Baker, and Amalia DeShay for their source materials and pictures.