Sarah Steward Izzard started playing piano in churches at the age of 12 — and still is playing more than 50 years later.
On Sunday mornings, you will find her at the piano, ready to lead the choir in the ministry of music.
Since her childhood, she has spent countless hours singing and playing the piano for various churches in the community.
“My father, the late Rev. Solomon Steward, taught me to read music,” Izzard said. “He only had a second-grade education. When I went to the first grade, I was already playing the piano.”
“I read and play by air. My daddy always called my playing a gift from God,” she added. “My father and my mother, the late Ella Fare Steward, loved to sing.”
A passion for music runs in her family. One son, Terrell, is a music major, while another son, Leroy, sings in quartets. Her deceased daughter, Trevia, was an excellent singer.
“The first church I played at was Pleasant Grove African Methodist Episcopal Church,” Izzard said. “The pastor, Rev. Frank Denegal, heard about a little girl who could play the piano. I started playing for Pleasant Grove in 1955 and played for them until 2002. I played for the senior choir No. 2 and the junior choir.”
Izzard said that when she was 14, she began playing at First Zion Baptist in Riceboro. She still plays for them.
“Pleasant Grove and First Zion raised me,” she said. She also still is playing for Mount Olive Baptist Church in Walthourville. “I started playing for Mount Olive when I was 16 years old.”
Mount Zion Baptist Church in Hinesville was her home church, but she changed her membership because she always playing at Mount Olive with her father, who was the Mount Olive pastor.
Izzard has played in churches throughout the community and the surrounding areas. In addition to playing at Pleasant Grove, First Zion and Mount Olive, Izzard also played the piano at Elim Baptist in Ludowici, St. Luke Baptist in Hinesville, St. Thomas AME in Walthourville and a church in Claxton. She also played in the Tattnall Missionary Baptist Association.
Her theory on instruments is that they should never overpower the choir.
“You will never hear me playing above the choir,” she said. “I love singing with harmony, and I like all kind of music, but I love hymns. My favorite song is ‘Am I a Soldier of the Cross.’”
Mary A. Frasier Cormier, one of Izzard’s former choir members at Pleasant Grove AME, praised her.
“Mrs. Sarah Steward Izzard is a loving, dedicated, and committed person to God, church, family, community and friends,” Cormier said. “She’s a person that cares and don’t mind sharing her time and talent with others.”
To show their love and appreciation for Izzard, former members of the Pleasant Grove AME Young Adult Choir honored her during the morning service May 26 at Mount Olive.
“As I sat there and noticed former choir members coming in, I wondered what was going on. It was a total shock. They did a beautiful job. I want God to get the glory and praise,” Izzard said.
The surprise program was done to let Izzard know just how much the community, especially Pleasant Grove AME, appreciates her years of dedicated service as a musician. Jacquelyn Lovette Burley, one of her former Pleasant Grove choir members, was the speaker during the program.
“The actual idea was Lillian Baker’s idea. She was the last Pleasant Grove Young Adult Choir president before Sarah’s resignation,” Burley said. “Because it was all about paying homage to her for her service as our musician, with which came voice drills and much more, I was immediately led to talk about the story of David wanting to show God’s kindness to someone of the house of Saul. So I paralleled that story (2 Samuel 9:1-11) to Sarah.”
“We asked Rev. Frank Jones, Mount Olive’s pastor, if we could have the program at Mount Olive because that was the only way we could catch up with Sarah. I must say on behalf of the Young Adult Choir of Pleasant Grove AME, we love Sarah, and she is just like our family,” Cormier said.
The Rev. Henry Frasier Jr. served as Izzard’s escort during the program, and Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette and Cormier presented her with a plaque and a gift. Evangelist Evelyn Frasier of Clarksville, Tenn., led the choir in singing “One More Time.”
“She also sang ‘Morning Train,’ one of Sarah’s favorites from the days when we sang together,” Burley said.
It was the second straight year Izzard has been honored. Last year, First Zion honored her during its church anniversary by dedicating a portion of the program to her.
Despite being retired from Interstate Paper in Riceboro after 37 years there as a senior accounting clerk, Izzard remains busy in the community by playing, singing and doing volunteer work. She also serves as the Mount Olive financial clerk and head of its finance committee.