Benjamin Pruitt Sr. – a personal remembrance:
I met Ben Pruitt in the early 1970’s. I was a student for the ministry at Yale. Our church was still in its former location at 514 Garfield Street in the “Black Bottom” of Detroit. My father was the senior minister and preparing the church to relocate to its new location, two blocks away at our present address, 600 E. Warren Ave. I did not return home from school to see the congregation march to the new location. Ben Pruitt brought the marching band from his school, I believe it was Cass Technical High School, and they led the excited and hopeful congregation with much fanfare from the former church building to the present building.
Ben and his wife, Caroline were active members of the Plymouth United Church of Christ, most notably, in the Koinonians Club, an organization for younger married couples. Ben served as an elected deacon of the church, assisting the minister with the distribution of communion to the sick and shut in, as well as to worshipers on the first Sunday of the month. I always felt close to the family and served as a youth ministry leader to Ben Jr. and his younger sister, Paunice. Denise and I took Ben jr. and Paunice around the country as part of the Black College Tours sponsored by our church.
In 1985, I was installed as the senior minister and pastor of the church. After my first couple of years, I asked Ben if he would serve as the minister of music. He said yes, and for 19 years we worked together as partners in ministry. Ben has the distinction of being our only minister of music who did not also direct a choir. His style of leadership was unique and accepted by all the musicians first, because he was an exceptional musician. Secondly, because he was not aligned with any of the choirs, it was hard to say that he played favorites. The musicians and congregation held Ben Pruitt in high regard.
More than any other individual, Ben Pruitt has shaped the current music program at the Plymouth United Church of Christ. Ben was good about honoring the traditional spirituals and anthems the church carried and continued from its founding. He and I were friends and I cannot ever think of a cross word between the two of us. I trusted his musical genius and gave him full freedom to grow our music department. Often, Ben would accompany a choir on the saxophone, but sometimes he and Ben Jr. would play solos and duets with each other during worship.
“You will gain more than you lose,” is how Ben responded when I shared with him that I felt it was time to bring contemporary music into the worship service. That one remark has stuck with me as the musical program of the church continues to evolve. Ben was correct, the church has gained more than it lost.
When I reached out to Ben for assistance in identifying a young person to accompany my Bible Study, the person he introduced me to was Lamar Willis, who was only 16 years of age. Now, at 35, Lamar is the current minister of music. So, Ben Pruitt not only led the music department of the Plymouth United Church of Christ, but he set in motion the process for the church to nurture his successor! Ben was a leader among leaders.
In 1976 and for the next two or so years, I would join Ben and I believe Clarence White during the Christmas holiday at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Isaac Powell and we would provide instrumental accompaniment for their family and friends. Ben encouraged me to dust off my trombone and join him and the others as we would play Christmas Carols.
When he organized his big band, “Ben’s Friends,” I allowed the band to rehearse at the church at no charge. For the last 16 years, Ben would bring his big band back to the church as a treat to the 50-60 homeless persons we house for a week during the month of February.
Even after Ben ceased to serve as the minister of music, he and I kept in contact, literally, until his death. Ben played at the investiture of my wife when she was made chief judge of the federal court for the eastern district of Michigan. Often, Ben would slip into the balcony and play during funerals. I continued to text prayers and scriptures to Ben and he continued to text me back, letting me know how much he appreciated the prayers. Monday, October 30, 2017 around 4:30, joined by Geri White, Tracey White Kenty and the brother in law of Ben, Abduallah El-Amin, I gave Ben communion for the last time. Ben was conscious, cognizant, calm and faithful to the end. While in the hospital room, I dialed Denise and she shared with Ben how much she appreciated him playing at her investiture and all the good times we shared over the years. Ben went home to meet the Lord a couple of hours later.
So, I conclude this remembrance of my friend, Ben with prayers of condolence to his wife, Caroline, children, Ben jr. and Paunice, their spouses and children. Ben Pruitt Sr. left this world better than he found it, and each of us are better people because of him.
Written by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Hood III
Pastor and Senior Minister, Plymouth United Church of Christ
The following are the funeral arrangements for Ben Pruitt Sr.:
Funeral: Saturday, November 4, 2017 at 11 AM, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ, 600 E. Warren Ave. Detroit, Michigan 48201 preceded by a family hour at 10 AM
Burial: Elmwood Cemetery
Repast following the burial at the Plymouth United Church of Christ