Harold Hart has been singing gospel songs at First Covenant Church for a big chunk of this century. Since 1924, his baritone has been a fixture at Sunday services at the downtown Spokane church.
Over the years, Hart has developed quite a following among church members.
“They won’t let me quit,” he says. “There would be an uproar if I did.”
His devoted public doesn’t have to worry about losing Hart, who recently celebrated his 89th birthday. He hasn’t even considered quitting.
“I’ll keep on as long as I can,” he says. “I enjoy it, and everybody appreciates it.”
Hart first started singing while attending Lewis and Clark High School. First Covenant’s choir director heard him sing there and persuaded Hart to bring his baritone to the church.
Although Hart once played the violin, he never liked it very well and decided long ago to focus on singing. Whether it’s with the church choir, solo or in a duet, Hart sings only gospel music.
“It is very important to me,” he says of religion.
Even though Hart is a lifelong Spokane resident, his parents traveled a long way to get to the Northwest. They came to the United States from Sweden and eventually settled in Spokane, where they found a Swedish church, First Covenant.
Services were entirely in Swedish until the late 1920s, when they were changed to English.
As a result, Hart grew up with the Swedish language. He still sings some solos in Swedish but no longer carries on a conversation very well in Swedish.
Hart’s sons, both in their 60s, sang in the church choir when they were younger. Ethel, his wife of 48 years, was very musical, Hart says, which was an big influence on their sons.
She died of cancer in 1977, five years after he retired as a construction and maintenance worker with Washington Water Power.
At the active age of 70, Hart married Edna. She formerly sang in the church choir with him, but she doesn’t do it as much anymore.
“She can, but she’s a little on the timid side,” he says.
Through the years, Hart has seen a lot of choir directors come and go, including Mavis Broberg. Broberg directed the choir in the early 1970s and enjoyed working with Hart.
“He’s a really good singer,” she says. “He has a really nice tone.”
Broberg says Hart is well thought of in the church and deserves to be recognized for his long service, but not all of it has been in the choir. “He spends a lot of time doing volunteer work at the parish,” she says.
When current choir director Jean Smith first met Hart in the early 1970s, she was a little afraid of him because of his stern manner. Now, she says, she knows him to be a very loving and caring man.
“I don’t know if he likes it or not, but I call him a teddy bear,” she says.
Smith praises Hart as a dependable person who is concerned with doing as well as he can, which does not go unappreciated by his listeners.
“He never gives less than his best,” she says. “People just love to hear him sing.”
So much so that several years ago Smith overheard a prospective bride lament that she just couldn’t get married if Hart did not sing at her wedding.
While Hart is an important member of the choir, he would hate being called the “star” of the show, Smith says.
“It really wouldn’t fit him,” she says. “Everyone is doing it as an act of worship.”
Just the same, he would be missed if he weren’t there.
“We wouldn’t be the same without him,” Smith says. “He has a beautiful, beautiful voice.”