It’s Sunday morning at Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church in Myrtle Beach, and folks are feeling mighty fine.
Thunderous handclaps, rhythmic foot stomps, soaring voices, staccato drumbeats and the round renderings emanating from the piano are all thanking the Holy Spirit for joining their praise.
Then, it happens. The trill and thrill of James “Bull’’ Canty’s trumpet slips, slides, skitters, rides, and rails notes into honey that drizzles jubilant sounds onto the divine devotion already in place for Jesus.
Yes, the worship service has turned electric, and eyes can see and ears can hear fetters binding hearts and minds breaking.
“He’s dedicated, and he’s an inspiration to the church,’’ said the Rev. Thomas Habersham, pastor of Mount Olive, of Canty who has been a featured musician there since 2003. “He’s awesome.”
Canty’s family happily testifies his is a gift given from God that manifested when he was only 3 years old. Ever since then, Canty, affectionately called “Bull” by his beloved, has taught himself to play nearly 30 musical instruments. Although he has played secular music, his heart is now firmly set on producing heavenly harmonies, and he spends chunks of his time doing so.
The results of his dedication are moving. Tears flow. Hands sign hallelujah. Mouths shout “Amen!”
I close my eyes before I even put the horn to my face. Then when I start playing, whatever happens just happens. I only breathe life into the horn. The rest comes from upstairs. I let God take over.
James “Bull’’ Canty
“I close my eyes before I even put the horn to my face,” he said. “Then when I start playing, whatever happens just happens. I only breathe life into the horn. The rest comes from upstairs. I let God take over.”
People have told him God moves through his music. Canty is thankful for it all.
“I have no idea what people hear coming out of my horn,” Canty said the day before the aforementioned worship service.
He was at his Myrtle Beach home sorting through some songs stored on his MacBook. “People will tell me later how my music touched them, but I have no idea unless I am told. I just play what I am led to play.”
Canty, 37, doesn’t create those balloon jaws like Dizzy Gillespie famously did to blow air into the trumpet. Canty’s cheeks does, however, rise up like puff pastries so that people realize there’s still heavy-duty breathing techniques taking place to deliver his talent.
His mama, Martha Gore, is pleased and proud. She is a woman who knows how to reverence God with singing. Since 1977, she has been on the Voices of Praise Choir at Mount Olive. She politely shared, while putting away her Wal-Mart groceries, as her son sat quietly, how he comes from a family line of fine musicians, including her granddaddy. Nevertheless, she was still shocked when she received a surprise phone call 34 years ago.
The call came during Vacation Bible School at Mount Olive. Her mama, Mary Catherine Brantley Canty, was on the other end, calling her from church, to ask when “Bull” started taking piano lessons.
“He’s in here playing the piano, and his feet can’t even touch the floor,” Gore’s mama told her.
Gore, who was getting dressed to attend Vacation Bible School, hurried up and rushed over to the church.
“I knew my mama didn’t drink, and I wondered what in the world was she talking about because Bull never took a piano lesson in his life,” Gore said.
I knew my mama didn’t drink, and I wondered what in the world was she talking about because Bull never took a piano lesson in his life.
Martha Gore, mother of musician James “Bull” Canty
Since that day, music has been in the forefront of Canty’s life. His grandma, who died at 81 on Jan. 20, served as a source of inspiration. Brantley Canty, among other things, was known for helping lead the charge to preserve Myrtle Beach’s black history via the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center.
Called “Nana” and “Toots” by her loved ones, Brantley Canty was a primary force in her grandson’s life, and he credits her for helping him better understand the ministry of gospel music.
“She knew more about hymns than anybody I know,” said Canty, who studied music at Brevard College and Utah State University. “She would tell me which set of scriptures inspired the hymns. So instead of just recording a note, I can also record the story because it’s in my head and that helps me give the music more meaning.”
Last year, he recorded his first gospel CD, “The Gospel According to Brass,” featuring 12 favorites, including “I Surrender All,” which is the song he played on the piano when he was 3. Recently, he released a holiday CD titled “Christmas Brass.” It highlights upbeat takes on classics including “Jingle Bells,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
For more info: Contact James “Bull” Canty at 843-712-2136 or higherlouder- firstname.lastname@example.org
Through the years, he’s taught himself to play an array of instruments in the brass, string, woodwind, and percussion family. Yet, his closest kinship is with the trumpet.
“Of all the instruments I play, the trumpet is the one I speak clearest through,” said Canty, who spent three years aboard a Holland America Line cruise ship as one of two trumpet players in its 10-piece international band that played show tunes. “Music is a universal language. I don’t need language to communicate.”
His hope is that his music will continue to minister to people by connecting them and bringing them closer to God.
Like the engine in “The Little Engine That Could,” Canty thinks he can with his horn in his hand.
“I want to use my gifts to bridge the gaps between people, not divide them,” he said. “I am trying to minister to people in a very creative way. I’m trying to spread the message that God is great. God works wonders, and he can work wonders in everybody’s life.”
Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.