If Handy Avery had pursued his original chosen career path, you may have been calling him Dr. Avery rather than Rev. Avery.
Fortunately for the music world, Handy stepped off the medical path and landed exactly where God and countless people needed him…ministering in music and song for 50 years to Alabama congregations in Tuscaloosa, Scottsboro and Huntsville.
A native of Tuscaloosa, Handy grew up attending West End Baptist Church. He performed his first solo there Easter Sunday of 1954. Sporting his first real suit, young Handy was scheduled to sing “Jesus Loves Me” as his mother taught him. Not fully comprehending the true meaning of Easter, he belted out something he thought was connected to the season…”A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket.”
He doesn’t remember it, but he’s pretty sure his parents and those attending never forgot.
Handy was especially influenced musically by his mother and her brother, Uncle Don, who were always singing whether at home, in the car or at church.
“It never occurred to me that every family didn’t sing around the house,” said Handy. “I have very few memories of listening to the radio as a child since we entertained ourselves singing when we traveled.”
While growing up, he was always involved in church or school choirs. He won a spot in the ninth grade talent show after singing the hit song, “Tammy,” from the popular Debbie Reynolds’ movie. He started taking private piano lessons in the second grade.
After deciding he’d rather make children happy through music rather than making them cry when getting a shot, Handy elected to forego his medical career choice. He felt God was calling him into music ministry. His family, which had always encouraged him toward a medical career, heartedly supported his decision.
However, his musical career nearly got sidetracked before it even began.
Three days after graduating from Tuscaloosa High School in 1968, he enrolled in the University of Alabama. While he started working on his required courses for med school, he took an elective that summer which set in motion God’s plan for his life – private voice.
Following his voice final performance before the entire voice faculty at his beloved university, he was asked to return to the room, but not for an encore. One professor told him the voice faculty did not think he had the vocal ability to sustain a career in music.
“I was crushed,” said Handy. “What was happening to God’s plan for my life?”
Despite the heartbreaking news, Handy’s teacher promised if he would work hard, he’d help him get to the next level…and that he did. If only those voice faculty members could have been at one of Weatherly’s Lovefeast celebrations the last 18 years!
“It was at this time I sensed God working in my heart about music,” said Handy. “I was now looking for assurance from God for a direction with this ‘music thing.’”
As a teen, he started receiving invitations to perform vocally at church-related events and often filled in as a pianist for his uncle Don. While traveling together home from one event, Uncle Don asked Handy, “Are you ready to surrender to what God is calling you to do?” It startled and frightened his young nephew. Eventually, through Uncle Don’s recommendation, Southside Baptist in Tuscaloosa extended an invitation to Handy to become its music director. He accepted the position shortly before his 20th birthday.
“From that point on, I knew what God wanted of me and what I had to do to follow God’s leadership,” said Handy. He went on to graduate from the University of Alabama in 1972 with a degree in music education. He earned a Master of Church Music with a concentration in Choral Conducting from Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth in 1974. That’s where he met his friend and Weatherly Baptist pianist Gary Sims. Handy served as a part-time minister of music at Cedar Hill Baptist while in seminary.
After returning to Tuscaloosa in 1974, he served as interim minister of music at Temple Baptist for two years. It was there where he and his beautiful and talented wife, Elaine Kirk, married Aug. 17, 1974.
He was called to Highlands Baptist Church in Huntsville as its minister of music in 1976 and served there until 1984. In 1982, Handy and several area music ministers, including Weatherly’s then-minister of music Mike Williams, founded the Tennessee Valley Handbell Association
While at Highlands, he and Elaine’s only child, Ashley, was born in 1980. They left Highlands in 1984 when Handy became minister of music at First Baptist Church of Scottsboro. In 2002, Weatherly Heights Baptist invited him to join its ministerial staff which he accepted. After 18 years, he decided to retire, much to the chagrin of the congregation’s members who have loved and embraced the Avery family since the beginning.
“All of my musical goals have been around choral or vocal music,” said Handy. “I dreamed as a 17-year-old in high school of directing a choir of singers who sang with beauty, energy and personal expression. When I came to Weatherly, God blessed that dream with the Chancel Choir. Many, many times I have witnessed that dream coming true on both Sundays and Wednesday evening choir rehearsals. Many choral directors never have the blessing that I have enjoyed and I am very much aware of how God has enriched and blessed my life.”
One of Handy and Elaine’s greatest blessings came when their only grandchild, Lillie Kate, was born in 2011. She became Weatherly’s sweetheart, just as her mom did many years earlier at Highlands Baptist and First Baptist of Scottsboro.
Handy’s unique flair for fashion, or possibly lack of it, his infectious laughter and talent for making people feel special, endear him to virtually everyone he meets. Although he and Elaine plan to remain members at WHBC, his on-stage presence will be greatly missed by all, especially senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. David Freeman.
“It has been a pleasure to work these past 18 years with Handy Avery,” said David. “His commitment to Christ, work ethic, and musical talent have made him a very effective Minister of Music. I always had confidence that if Handy agreed to do something, it would be done well. Now that he joins Elaine in retirement, I’m sure they will find new ways to minister to others. Congratulations on your retirement, Handy. Enjoy a much-deserved break.”
PICTURES FROM OUR HANDY AVERY PARADE