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Ernest Alexander on faith, mentoring and his hope to return to the stage

Ernest Alexander
Carla Eckels

For this month’s In The Mix, a beloved local voice explains his absence from the spotlight.

For many years the deep rich voice of Ernest Alexander has radiated throughout concert halls and churches around the world. He’s also known for singing at an annual Christmas concert here in his hometown of Wichita. But recently he’s been absent from the stage. For this installment of In The Mix, Carla Eckels catches up with Earnest and shares the latest from the baritone singer.

Interview Highlights

Ernest Alexander, you have such a phenomenal voice. You've literally sung around the world.

Thank God.

Yes. And you were at the helm of Youth Horizons, the mentoring program for young boys. You’ve kind of been out of the public eye as of late, what's been going on?

I left Youth Horizons because I was ill and just lots of physical challenges ... I left at the right time. Thank God. I didn't realize how ill I was, but the board and I felt like we needed to make room for somebody else, and turns out, it was an act of God for me to leave because I just went really downhill fast.

And since ... I left Youth Horizons, I weighed 394 pounds. Today I weigh 180 pounds. So, you know, it's certainly been a bit of a challenge physically, but I'm really grateful for Wichita. And for the doctors, people have bent over backward to help me, to try to keep me alive, you know. I'm just, I'm really amazed at the friendships and the love. It's been wonderful.

My goodness, you said 394 pounds and you're at 180. What has that been like for you?

Well, when I look in the mirror, I see myself as a much older man physically. Now I look much older, feel much older, however, I'm healthier than I've been in a long time and I'm thankful for that.

I'm hoping to get back to singing concerts. I think I sound okay. I mean, obviously there are some signs of age, but I'm not ashamed to open my mouth and sing a note.

You said that you're thinking about getting out and singing. Do you have some, things lined up?

I get asked a lot, and I just turned them down because I did not have the energy to get out and do it. But the doctors feel like once I adjust to dialysis and get a regular routine, I should be able to go back to the concert stage if I choose to, you know, so I'm excited and I'm optimistic and hopefully I'm going to get on the kidney list. I'm wearing this heart monitor just to make sure that I'm healthy enough to receive a donation. And then once they determine that, get a kidney in me and get back on the road.

You’re in need of a kidney?

Yes. I’m in need of a kidney. I think I'm A positive.

What is the status of that?

Now, I've, I've gone through all the tests. There's a huge St Luke's Health System which is a wonderful organization out of Kansas City. They have an office here and they have been working with me and they came up with this list of things that needed to be done. All of which led them to saying, "you need to do dialysis and you need to do it now." And so I've been doing that for about a month and a half. Obviously, it's improving my quality of health. People shouldn't be afraid of dialysis. It is not an end of life. It could be an extension of life, but you know, if you talk to the wrong person, they'll say, well, this is an end of life and people go away discouraged. And I still believe in the sovereign will of God.

How has your faith aided you during this time?

I think the most profound lesson I have learned is suffering was designed in the plan. It was never, meant to be rosy. It was always meant to show us what we are capable of with the help of the Holy Spirit. And I think so many people get disillusioned with God when they pray for deliverance and healing and miracles and things like that. And they don't see it happen. And I've said this before, everybody wants to believe that the grace of God is sufficient. No one wants to weather the storm that proves it. In this, I have seen God more clearly than I ever have in my 66 years. And I'm more encouraged in my faith than ever before. Suffering doesn't break you. It makes you. It’s the truth.

Are you still mentoring young boys? Where does that stand?

I started a new program called "Life On Life" and it's dealing with 18 year olds and older. These are kids who have been wards of the state. All of their lives — never adopted. And they're being released from state custody and they're still not prepared for adulthood. Many don't have a driver's license. They don't have identification cards. They don't have birth certificates. They don't have social security cards. Now they may have those things somewhere, but they don't know how to access them. A lot of them don't have high school diplomas.

And so we decided we would start on a small scale and I just gave away two used cars. We’re getting ready to give a third car because most of the kids need transportation to be able to get to and from work. And so God has blessed us with favor in this city. And we've asked for used vehicles and people have given them. And what we do is we help get those vehicles ready and make sure that they're roadworthy. And then the kid has to be at least employed for three months to qualify for getting on the list for a car. Then he has to hold a job and he has to raise the money for his own insurance. And he has to be able to pay the taxes and all that kind of stuff.

Ernest, during this season so often people miss you singing songs such as "Tennessee Christmas."

I love secular music as well as sacred music. God created it all. Now, there are some things that are on the radio, on television, the internet that shouldn't be there, but there's a lot of good stuff about love and about family. And when I sing "Tennessee Christmas," I get all these warm fuzzies, you know, I just, I love it very much. And many, many people request it every year, you know? So, I think it's beautiful.

What do you miss the most about singing?

I think the contact with people — just touching people, being touched by people, letting people see that this is important to me. Restoration is a possibility, no matter where you come from, no matter what mistakes you've made, God is not the individual holding it against you. The failures of your past. That's a lot of nonsense trying to make you think that you are not fit and you won't ever fit well. That's a lie because God has provided everything to make us usable for his glory. God made us to give, he made us to serve and to bless and love. I miss being able to do that. And I miss leading in worship because I love getting up in front of a congregation and saying, “Sing!”

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.