By Debbonnaire Kovacs, Oct. 29, 2015
On a busy street in the small town of Java, South Dakota stood a bank. People passing by on this day in 1927 were startled to see a very small girl (three years old, in fact) standing before the bank, singing happily. Some began offering her coins, and before long the little girl had fistfuls of money. She continued to warble away. Her dream was coming true—she was a singer!
The bank manager came out to see what was going on, and shook his head, though he couldn’t help smiling. Recognizing the child as Ardella Delker, he went back inside to telephone her mother. “Martha, are you missing something?”
The voice on the other end of the phone line was distorted by tears. “Yes! I can’t find my daughter. We’ve looked all over for her. She’s gone.”
“Well, she’s down here, standing in front of the bank, singing for a living, and people are putting money in her hot little fists!” the bank manager informed her.
Del Delker may have faced reprisals that day long ago, but she never did stop singing. One of the most famous voices in Adventist music, Del Delker recently celebrated her 91st birthday, and I want to honor her here in the pages of Adventist Today.
My own memories, like those of many of my contemporaries, contain lots of Del Delker music, especially some of her more well-known songs such as “Ten Thousand Angels,” “Night Watch,” and her famous signature piece, “The Love of God.” As I write these words, I can hear her rich contralto voice singing it.
For me, because she was involved with the denomination, and because she was old—at least 40!—and I was young, she was connected with the stricter, more rigid forms of conservative Seventh-day Adventism. I hasten to add that this was based purely on my assumptions, not on anything Del Delker ever said or did. So I was surprised (and, I’ll admit it, relieved) to discover some of the facts I uncovered in researching this story.
In 1931, unable to continue to support her two children alone, Martha Delker (divorced since before Del’s birth) took Del and her older brother, Stanley, to California, where she found work as a caterer.
By the time she was in her teens, Del’s desire to make music had coalesced into a desire to be a dance band singer. She had already run into trouble with her teachers at an Adventist school for wearing nail polish that was “too colorful.” Her response was to wear a darker shade. Now, here she was wanting to sing for a dance band. Her brother worked in such a band, but didn’t want her to, because, as she put it, “he knew what often went on behind the scenes.”
After high school, Del worked in a Greyhound bus station. During this time, she was introduced by some friends to a place in Oakland, called the Quiet Hour. They went to some services there and listened to J. L. Tucker and others. Del found here an Adventist ministry that seemed more sincere and less legalistic than some she had seen. One evening she listened to Tucker describe heaven as he imagined it, with beautiful plants and animals, not to mention meeting Jesus and being reunited with family and friends. He ended with an invitation that stuck with Del over the next days.
Did she want to go? Yes!
But…while applying her makeup before going to work, she would wonder, what would she have to give up?
She decided to ask Pastor Tucker. The conversation is recorded in an article written by Steven Chavez and published in a 2009 Review.
“Pastor Tucker,” she said, “I really, really want to go to heaven.”
“You certainly can, Del,” he responded. “Just accept Jesus as your Savior and be baptized in His name.”
Then she came right to the point: “What I want to know is what do I have to give up?”
“I can still remember how he reacted,” she says. “He had a big swivel chair, and he leaned way back and kind of chuckled, then laughed right out loud.”
“‘I’ll tell you what, Del,’ he said. ‘I know there’s a lot of people in the church who have whole long lists of what you can and can’t do if you want to be a Christian—and what you can and can’t wear. But I prefer to keep it simple. Here’s what I’d say about how you look: If you can walk out of the house without drawing undue attention to yourself, you’ll be on the right track.’”
Delker looks back on that sermon about heaven as the time when she gave her heart to the Lord. In another few months she made her decision to be baptized and join the church.
That was March 1947. Delker soon began to sing for the Quiet Hour in meetings and on broadcasts. That summer she sang at a camp meeting in Lodi, California, and for the first time, a large audience heard her sing “The Love of God.” No one knew then that this would become her signature song.
Her voice made an immediate impression. She was asked to join the Voice of Prophecy team, both to sing and to be the secretary.
At this point, Delker was still working at Greyhound and saving for college that fall, so she said no. But they called again. She said no. And a third time—still no. When they asked the fourth time, Delker suddenly wondered if this was coming from God. Did God have a different plan for her? She began to ask trusted friends and advisors, and ended up making a fateful choice to join the Voice of Prophecy team.
But all was not moonlight and roses. She sang seldom, and worked in several clerical positions, wondering if this was really God’s leading. A breakthrough came when Wayne Hooper, then with the King’s Heralds, told her he felt he had been unsupportive of her and her work. He told her he believed God had called her and had a place for her in the music ministry of the Voice of Prophecy. “I want you to know,” she remembers him saying, “that you can count on me. If there’s anything I can do to help you further your career as a singer, I’ll do it.”
Thus began a 50-year association, in which Delker sang many of Hooper’s arrangements. In fact, her last public performance was at Hooper’s memorial service in 2007, when he passed away from cancer.
Her other dream came true, too—she did go to college, beginning at Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University), but transferring after a year to La Sierra so she could be closer to VOP. She graduated in 1958 with a B. A.
Over the next decades, Delker sang all over the world, singing and recording songs in fifteen different languages, and, as Chavez puts it, “learning to face the challenges that come with being a celebrity.” (She told a story of early on praying about pride, and God telling her, “I’ll take care of your ego. You leave that to Me.”)
Del Delker became one of the most recognizable faces and voices in the Adventist music ministry, beginning when she started singing regularly in 1950, and increasing when she was included for the first time on a record made by the VOP quartet. She was featured on more than 40 records and CDs (some of which we listened to regularly on Sabbath afternoons in my childhood home) and worked for the VOP until the music department was disbanded in 1982, then continuing on the broadcast with the help and accompaniment of Hugh Martin. Martin was a popular composer and songwriter (he wrote “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” for example) who had joined the church. The two worked together for nearly a decade, and continued to be good friends and sometimes collaborate after that.
In January 1990, Delker officially retired, but she still sang and traveled sometimes until 2007, ending with the abovementioned service for Wayne Hooper. On June 30, 2002, she joined many of her friends from over the years to record a program called “Del and Friends.” It was a tribute to her 55 years of service and to her ability to work with so many people in so many places in the world.
In 2004, she and Wayne Hooper traveled to Adventist colleges and universities to celebrate the VOP’s 75th anniversary.
These days, Delker lives in California’s central valley, where she still lives to praise and serve the Lord who did so much for her—and, through her, for others. Here is a quote about here that I found on Carole’s World, our music news guru’s Facebook page:
Happy 91st Birthday to our precious Del Delker. WE LOVE YOU.
Phil Draper Wrote –
“Del Delker celebrates her 91st Birthday October 21. She is alive and well in Porterville, CA. Her sense of humor is still vibrant. She loves remembering her journey as Voice of Prophecy contralto soloist for 60 years! Pray for this lady who has inspired audiences all over the world with her signature song, “The Love of God.” She has been an immeasurable gift to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I talked to her Sabbath and she was remembering “The Chief” — HMS Richards — and longs for heaven where she will see him again! I treasure her friendship and the memories we share! Happy Birthday, Delsie!”
You can find Delker’s autobiography (as told to Ken Wade) here.
Buy “Del Delker and Friends” CDs or DVDs here.
Listen to many, many of her songs by going to YouTube and typing in Del Delker. (I also found a “Del Delker y Amigos” in Spanish there.)
And read the sources for this article, which contain much more information as well as pictures:
wikipedia.org/wiki/Del_Delker (Just a basic article, but also includes a song list.)
Review Archives This is the Chavez Review article, and is the best of the bunch, in my opinion.