Reverend Dwight Andrews – A Hands-On History Maker who is essential in the pulpit and crucial in the world arts community


The Reverend Dr. Dwight Douglas Andrews is a particular distinctive man who walks on both sides of history –  on the stage and popular in the world of music, and in the pulpit, preaching the gospel.  He is known throughout Atlanta and on many sides of the “community.” How does he do this? My opinion is that it just comes naturally – even though he went to a lot of schools to learn how to be somebody very special. I believe that one cannot fake this extraordinary lifestyle. If you have it . . . you just have it. The authentic goodness is what shows in his face and cannot be denied. With such a creative mind, he is always bringing new programs and projects to this community – especially his church – First Church. So don’t try to predict what is coming next, just try to keep up with this amazing man; and appreciate his contributions to history.

The young Dwight seemed to have been drawn to music – witness the fact that he started a band when he was a young man living in Detroit, which he named “The Seven Sounds.”  This appears to be what opened the doors to a career in music.  However, he chose a road to success that was quite different from the road chosen by a lot of other young black men from the motor city. In my opinion, he chose a road which led to a career more fulfilling and rewarding.  Today’s Dwight Andrews is a pastor, minister, preacher, a professor, teacher, a musician, composer, saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist, band leader, and a spiritual leader to the congregation at First Congregational Church in downtown Atlanta, GA.

Dwight was born on September 24, l951 in Detroit, Michigan to James Wildrex Andrews, a city administrator, and his wife Lovetta Foster Andrews.  He attended Longfellow Elementary School and Durphy Junior High School where he met a music teacher, Andy White, who introduced him to the performances of Ramsey Lewis, Yusef Lateef, and the Jazz Crusaders, among others. Attending Cass Technical High School, Andrews studied classical music and learned music theory.  This is where he struck out and began to make music with the “Seven Sounds.”  His band was good enough to be the opening act for groups like Parliament-Funkadelic.  Can’t you just see Dwight boarding the mother-ship?  The early years for Andrews must have been both fun and challenging as he sought to take the road less charted into a different genre of music than the sounds we heard coming from the motor city.  As I get to know Reverend better, I find that we have a similar appreciation for some musical greats like Yusef Lateef, Ramsey Lewis, and even a little bit of rhythm & blues in common.

As life began to focus on college and a career, music appeared to be his choice for his life’s work. Dwight earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan in 1969, joined their marching band, and was quite pleased to have played in two Rose Bowl Games.  He earned both a B.A. Degree and a Master’s Degree from Michigan in music in 1973; and Andrews went on to Yale University to earn a Master’s of Divinity degree in 1977 and his Ph.D. in music theory in 1993.

On the campus of Yale University, Dwight Andrews was ordained as a minister in 1978.  While at Yale, he was a faculty member in the Music Department and the Department of African American Studies. He also served as the Yale University campus chaplain and as associate pastor of Christ’s Church at Battel Chapel at Yale for ten years.  His teaching career was extended to the campuses of Rice and Harvard Universities.

Andrews seems to be at the right place, at the right time.  And, because he was educationally prepared for this artistic world and because he was surrounded with at the Yale Repertory Theater, many doors were opened.  Andrews met Lloyd Richards and August Wilson; and as resident music director, Andrews composed the original musical scores for most of the August Wilson Broadway productions including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, and Seven Guitars. Andrews also composed movie and television scores for The Old Settler, W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography in Four Voices, In Her Own Words, Homecoming, Ms. Evers Boys, and I’ll Make Me A World.

Andrews is known for his saxophone, and specializes in woodwinds; and therefore, he has appeared as a multi-instrumentalist on over twenty-five (25) jazz and new music albums. He can be heard on Jay Hoggard’s The Right Track with Hilton Ruiz and Jack Dejhonette, as well as other artists including Wadada Leo Smith, Anthony Davis, and Geri Allen.

As a musician and composer, he provided direction to the Broadway revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom featuring Whoopi Goldberg and Charles S. Dutton, and the music direction for the Broadway revival production of A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald, and Sanaa Latham. His film credits include The Old Settler starring Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen, The Piano Lesson, HBO’s Miss Evers’ Boys, and the PBS documentaries, W.E.B. Dubois: A Biography in Four Voices and Homecoming: The Plight of Black Farmers in Georgia.

Since 1994, Andrews has been at Emory University in Atlanta, where he now serves as professor of music theory and African American music. Specifically, he teaches “The History of Jazz” and “Sacred Music in the United States.” Andrews has received the Pew Trust/TCG Artist Residency Fellowship, a Mellon Fellowship and Emory University’s Distinguished Teacher Award.

Dr. Andrews was the first Quincy Jones Visiting Professor of African American Music at Harvard University for 1996-1997 and has also delivered the Alain Locke Lectures there. He was the Artistic Director of the 1998 National Black Arts Festival and is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes. Dr. Andrews is the creator and host of a new television magazine entitled Art and Soul, which explores the religious and spiritual perspectives of well-known artists from a variety of different disciplines. He was awarded the Yale Divinity School’s prestigious Lux et Veritas Award, and was the Distinguished Visiting Scholar of the Arts for 2015-2016 at Spelman College.

Reverend Doctor Dwight D. Andrews is currently the senior pastor of First Congregational Church, where Rev. Andrew Young continues to be an associate pastor. Dr. Andrews accepted a position as associate pastor at First Church in 1992 and was named senior pastor in 1999.  During his tenue in 2012, First Church completed a massive three-year, ten-million-dollar renovation and revitalization of the historic church building in downtown Atlanta on the corner of John Wesley Dobbs Street and Courtland Avenue.

The congregation of First Church is striving even more for social justice, and continues to contribute to and organize social outreach and humanitarian efforts. Home to a vibrant and active congregation, the First Congregational Church offers worship service every Sunday at 11 A.M. and organizes many and varied events and concerts throughout the year.  His leadership in the church continues to have innovative programs including a highly extensive and esteemed “music ministry” which includes a chancel choir, jazz chorus, jazz vespers, gospel ensemble, and children’s choirs; the Third Sunday Band; and a jazz concert series called “First Friday at First” with features some of the most recognized jazz performed in the Atlanta music scene.

Andrews’ leadership believes in community partnerships and a number of services partnerships exist at First Church including the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra, C.H.O.I.C.E.S, and the Atlanta Music Festival, to name a few.

This year (2018), First Church is celebrating its 150th Anniversary.  The congregation and Reverend Andrews received Phoenix Awards from both the City of Atlanta’s Mayor and the City Council.  Senator Kamala Harris, the first Black Women Senator from California, accepted an invitation from First Church and visited the congregation where she was welcomed by a standing-room only audience.

Reverend Andrews met his wife, Desiree Pedescleaux, while studying at Yale University and they have been married for thirty years. She is the Academic Dean at Spelman College. Reverend Andrews says, “She is a very special lady, and cooks the absolute best gumbo ever!”

Always looking for new and innovative programs, Andrews is a gentle radical with a moderate bit of revolution and rebellion in the mix.  With music at the core of many of him ministries, he is making plans to present a 2018/2019 Hip-Hop Session at First Church to deal with issues with as praise and politics.  Balancing the roles of educator, artist, and pastor are united and totally in agreement with Reverend Doctor Andrews’ advocacy for music and ministry devoted to the whole person –  mind, body, and soul. I salute the history this history-maker is making every day – no matter which side of street he steps out on.

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