I was 6 years old, and I was thrilled.
As I stood in the wings of Angelus Temple, waiting to sing a solo, Sister McPherson spotted me. She handed me some roses from the beautiful bouquet she always carried onto the platform. There were 5,000 people in the standing-room-only auditorium that day, and I’ll never forget how kind she was.
Half a life before, when I was 3, Sister McPherson preached an illustrated sermon called “The Poor Little Match Girl,” and I played the poor little girl. I was wrapped in a blanket and singing a song, just as I was supposed to, when I got tangled up in the blanket.
She noticed that I was struggling and came to help me. She smiled and unknotted the blanket so I could continue with my song.
A few years later, my Aunt Doris “Voice” Holmgren played “Snow White,” and an actor named Norman Nelson played the “Prince” in an illustrated sermon called “The Wishing Well.” Aunt Doris stood on the platform and sang into a wishing well, “I’m waiting, I’m waiting, for the one I love …”
To help create the illusion of a deep well, the director wanted an echo of Aunt Doris’ voice. So, I stood in the second balcony of Angelus Temple, up near the ceiling, and watched my aunt carefully on the platform below. Every time she sang a phrase, I sang the same phrase in response. It was dark where I stood, so no one knew for sure where the echo was coming from. It was kind of fun, but also a little spooky.
Believe it or not, I was a shy little girl, and my parents wanted to help me get over that shyness. So they took me to see Estelle Jones Caldwell, director of the Angelus Temple Music Conservatory. Mrs. Caldwell had graduated from L.I.F.E. Bible College in 1925 and served on the faculty there for 25 years. She held a Saturday children’s church with more than 1,000 in attendance, and she was certainly accustomed to bringing out the best in children.
It took one session with Mrs. Caldwell to overcome my shyness!
I suppose my mother, Mildred, wasn’t completely surprised that I responded so well to my new mentor, because she too had been nurtured in her young life at Angelus Temple. In the late 1920s, Mom attended evening classes at a prep school for teenagers at the Temple; she attended high school during the day. Sister McPherson was one of my mom’s teachers, and Sister’s influence greatly impacted my mother and our family.
My dad, Joshua, was an accomplished violinist who became concertmaster of the Angelus Temple orchestra under the direction of Foursquare legend Jimmy Boersma, who also conducted the famous Angelus Temple Silver Band. Mom sewed costumes for the various musicals, and my brother James played clarinet in the orchestra. Our involvement with music ministry at Angelus Temple was truly a family affair.
When I was 11, a 33-year-old musician named Audrey Meier began her ministry at Angelus Temple by starting a teenage choir. I was one of the first to sign up, and I sang with her choir for years. Audrey would later go on to write many classic gospel songs, including “His Name Is Wonderful,” and she later worked alongside gospel artists such as Phil Kerr and Grammy-winner Andraé Crouch.
Audrey Meier’s teenage choir traveled and sang wherever people would listen, and I have fond memories of these years. It was during this time that I met the man I would eventually marry, Bob Biro. He played lead trumpet for Jimmy Boersma in the Silver Band and attended the Foursquare church in Pasadena, Calif. Together, we raised three children, Sheree, Deanna and Marc, who followed in our footsteps as musicians for the Lord.
Sister McPherson’s oratorios, illustrated sermons and programs focused on the Word of God and always resulted in people accepting Christ. They were well attended and professionally staged. Hollywood scouts, looking for new talent to become part of the movie business, were often attracted to the Temple.
As a high school student, I studied with vocal coach Viola Anderson and with Lucia Liverette, a director with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company. I faced a real challenge when I was offered the chance to sing at the Hollywood Bowl—an opportunity I turned down at the request and advice of my parents.
They always taught me to live for Jesus Christ first and that my singing should always be about Him. Being involved in church and keeping their family close to the Lord was No. 1 with my mom and dad. Now that I am older and have raised a family, I am so glad I never strayed from that upbringing.