Sarah Izzard has retired after 60 years of playing the piano at First Zion Baptist Church in Riceboro, but shows few other signs of slowing down.
Izzard was honored with a retirement party Oct. 14 at First Zion where friends and family shared stories of her "mastering the art of playing the piano" and knowing immediately when someone was singing the wrong note.
Izzard’s home church is Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Walthourville and continued to play at First Zion every first and third Sunday over the years.
She was born in 1943 and became First Zion’s pianist at age 14. She accompanied the junior, young adult and senior choirs, which later combined into the United Voices of First Zion. She learned how to play from her father, Solomon Izzard. She was also musician and clerk at Mt. Olive and played for Pleasant Grove Baptist AME Church for 47 years.
Izzard retired because of her health.
She has three children and her son, Hank Izzard, from North Carolina, surprised her and brought along his singing group Favour.
The Rev. Frederick McIver of First Zion, recalled first seeing Izzard.
"When I first saw her play and the choir started singing and they were off key, she stood up and made them stop singing and I said wow," McIver said.
He talked of her dedication.
"There were times where we knew she didn’t feel good but she didn’t let that stop her," McIver said. "She’d come and play and then we’d take her to the hospital. She didn’t want us worrying about somebody not being there on Sunday to play."
The Rev. Frank Jones of Mt. Olive Baptist said Izzard deserved the honor.
The Rev. James Evans, of St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Ludowici, called her a jewel.
When Evans’ mother was sick he prayed for someone to come help and Izzard showed up "and said the Lord told me to come by and she said I’m going to help you" which she did for 15 years.
"The legacy that Sister Izzard has paved will never be forgotten," Evans said.
Dorothy Cottom called Izzard the best music director and teacher in Liberty County and Donald Lovette, a member of Pleasant Grove and Gospel Cousinaires, said he learned to direct from Izzard.
"The whole thing about praising and enunciating words came from Sarah and I’m really just passing on what’s been given to me," Lovette said. "When you hear the Cousinaires sing there’s a little bit of Sarah in there."
Mary Mullice, who was unable to attend, had remarks read. She said Izzard had a "unique art of playing the piano to where her sweet music would soothe the soul of everyone"
Mullice mentioned Izzard’s favorite musician James Brown.
"When Sarah got all fired up she would jump on her feet and say ‘You’ve got to punch it like James Brown,’" she said.
Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin read a proclamation naming Oct. 14 Sarah Izzard Day.
Deborah Robinson, Izzard’s music teacher, who just turned 88, shared stories of meeting Izzard, being her mentor and their travels with choirs.
Izzard thanked everyone for being there.
"Thank you so much. I just want to thank God. All that I am I owe to the Lord," Izzard said.
Her son said his mother was also tough on her kids and grandkids too, making sure they sang correctly. He used to serve in the military and called his mother the definition of a soldier.
"I’ve never known her to not go to church," he said. "If you’re gifted at something don’t take it for granted. She’s a gifted pianist, gifted musician and one thing that always amazed me, she practiced. Every Saturday night, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, she practiced."
What was supposed to be one final time of Izzard playing with United Voices turned into a mini concert, as people were heard saying "She’s not retired yet!"
There was a moment when the choir sang incorrectly and Izzard, true to form, stopped what she was doing, stood up, corrected the choir and continued to play.