Liberty County leaders, city of Hinesville officials and members of Celeste Betton’s physical and spiritual family turned out last Thursday to the Cathedral of Praise church in Hinesville to celebrate the soulful singer’s birthday and performance in the Army’s Operation Rising Star singing contest.
Betton, a Cathedral of Praise choir director and pre-K teacher’s assistant, was eligible for the competition as the wife of Staff Sgt. Kevin Betton Jr., who serves as a chaplain’s assistant at Fort Stewart.
Betton won the Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield competition, beating nine other contestants to win a seat in the Army-wide finals, held at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. In the final competition, she placed second out of six, narrowly losing to a country singer from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
“To be honest, because I love you all so much, I really felt like I had failed — not personally, but that I had failed you all,” she said Thursday. “Because, I really wanted to bring back something for my family, and that was what bothered me more than anything else. But I’m so grateful to God for the love that you all have shown here tonight.”
The contest finals were filmed live Dec. 10 and 12, and Betton flew home the following week. She said she expected her family would throw a modest celebration for her Dec. 18 birthday, but was completely surprised by the magnitude of the party held in her honor.
“This is amazing,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I was not expecting this at all.”
During the joint appreciation/birthday service, numerous spiritual leaders from across the community raved about Betton’s talent and praised her for the work she does in the church.
“You’re not a rising star – you’re already a star,” said Israel Aaron Cowart, pastor of Hinesville’s Live Oak Church of God.
“We thank God for you,” said United Ministerial Alliance President Richard Hayes, who also is pastor of New Day Community Church in Walthourville.
First Sgt. Kerry Williams of the U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Stewart, offered remarks on behalf of the local military community. The city of Hinesville also was represented, as Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier read a proclamation and presented an honorary key to the city to Betton.
“Congratulations on being recognized as one of the top performers in the United States Army,” he said. “You’ve represented yourself, your family, your community and your city to the fullest.”
The birthday surprises kept coming as Betton’s mother was introduced halfway through the service, having flown in from Alabama to take part in her daughter’s celebration.
“I’m just so elated, and so humbled, and so surprised,” Betton said.