Barry Saunders

Saunders: Music helps Wendell singer deal with loneliness after losing wife

Cynthia Moreland with her husband, Walter.
Cynthia Moreland with her husband, Walter.

When Walter Moreland was a member of the R&B singing group the Mark IV, he was its choreographer and second tenor.

He didn’t become a lead singer until he lost his voice and his joy – until he lost his wife.

Moreland is the Wendell man to whom I introduced you after his wife, Cynthia, was murdered by a vile predator who abducted her from the Progress Energy parking lot in downtown Raleigh one morning in 2006 as she arrived early to work. Antonio Chance pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence in prison.

After the murder, Moreland said, he didn’t want to sing, listen to music or do anything else. “I had so much hate in my heart,” he said when I spoke with him last week.

Who wouldn’t have?

I began that column four years ago this way: Walter Moreland was onstage singing at the old Inner City Club in downtown Raleigh when he first saw the girl – and at 16, that’s all she was, a girl – who would become his wife. Thirty-eight years later, hes still singing, but his wife is not around to hear his new song.

Music temporarily left Moreland’s life when his wife did. It was only while writing that new song about life without her that the words and music returned to his soul:

He composed “Alone” on a Casio keyboard that Cynthia bought him. “I kept hearing this tune (in my head) and was playing around with it,” he said. “I don’t know how, but the lyrics started coming to me. Not on my own. God inspired me because of the way I felt.”

After that column, which was about his efforts to get radio airplay for the tribute song to his wife, a voice coach contacted him. “She said I had a nice voice, but she could tell I wasn’t a lead singer. She said she saw the potential in my voice.”

Moreland, an energetic 76, began taking monthly lessons from her.

“When she said she wanted me to be able to do a 20-minute show, I said, ‘Aw, man, I don’t believe I can do that,’” he said.

He now does twice that. Moreland’s Christmas show consists of about 13 songs. During the Christmas season, I’ve been known to flee stores when some bogus version of Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home For Christmas” starts playing, and my first act as president in 2017 will be to sign a constitutional amendment prohibiting anyone else from ever again recording that song.

Moreland sent me his version last year: It didn’t send me fleeing.

When I see that they’re enjoying themselves, then I reallllly get into it. I’ll dance and sing and then they start dancing.

Walter Moreland, about his performances

No wonder Doris Jackson invited him to sing for her Golden Eagles senior citizens civic group at the Top Green Community Center in Raleigh.

“One of the members ... who’d heard him perform told me about him,” Jackson said. “He said he was very good.”

Others think so, too. Moreland has a performance scheduled for Friday at a nursing home in Apex and others scheduled into May. Sometimes he gets paid, he said; sometimes he doesn’t. He just loves doing what singers do – singing – because he is, despite his wireless mic, mixing board and computer, just an old-timey troubadour.

In that 2011 column, Moreland said, “I’m still depressed. Without my wife, I’m still lonely.”

Nothing’s changed, he said last week, but helping alleviate others’ loneliness helps him.

“Oh yesssss,” he answered when asked if his audiences at the assisted living facilities, civic clubs and private homes get into his performances. “When I see that they’re enjoying themselves, then I reallllly get into it. I’ll dance and sing, and then they start dancing. The songs I do are ones they grew up with – Eddie Floyd, Otis Redding, Johnny Mathis, Josh Groban.”

Josh Groban? OK, we’ll cut him some slack for that.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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