Listen to “Amen” with solo by Larry McDavid from FBC Christian Contemporary Singers courtesy Jeff Deford
Even though his time on Earth was short, and even though he died almost 50 years ago, Larry McDavid’s name still inspires praise from many long-time residents of Plano.
A talented musician and a popular standout student, McDavid was among the first African American students to attend Plano High School when it was integrated in 1964. He graduated with honors in 1967, was named “Outstanding Young Religious Worker of the Year” by the Plano Jaycees in 1970 and was appointed by the Plano City Council in 1972 to serve on the Human Relations Commission.
“God sent him just for a short period of time, but he touched a lot of lives,” said Henrietta Levier, McDavid’s sister, who still resides in the Douglass community where he grew up.
“He was a leader who loved people and loved Plano,” said McDavid’s nephew, Victor Denson.
McDavid passed away in a one-car accident in 1972, cutting short what would’ve certainly been a bright future. He was just one month shy of completing his undergraduate degree in music education at East Texas State University at Commerce, had just gotten engaged to be married and had been hired as a teacher in the Plano schools.
Many remember McDavid’s extraordinary singing voice. Larry was a member of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in the Douglass Community, but also sang with the Contemporary Christian Singers, a touring youth choir based at First Baptist Church of Plano, then a “solid white” congregation, according to Tom Fineout. Tom’s father, Jim Fineout, was the music minister in the 1960s.
Through family connections, the Fineout family and McDavid became friends; Jim Fineout invited him to sing with the choir. McDavid became the first and only Black member of the group. As part of the group, he toured around the country, performed at the State Fair of Texas and on the nationally televised “Ted Mack Amateur Hour.” Many still vividly recall McDavid’s signature solo in the hymn “Amen.”
Relatives say McDavid’s loving family gave him a strong sense of self-worth and high expectations. McDavid’s father, James McDavid, owned a lawn service in Dallas; his mother, Geneva, was active in the church and attended many church conferences, often with McDavid tagging along. The family shared dinner every night and went to church together every Sunday.
“We grew up in a Christian home,” said McDavid’s sister, Kay Gibson, who lives in Florida. “We were neighbors to everyone in the Douglass Community. We were taught to love the Lord and respect everyone.”
In the 1960s, prejudice was still common, but Larry somehow managed to transcend it.
“There was not a lot of racial blending of students,” recalled Cynthia “Joette” Hudson Reed, a Plano High School class of 1967 graduate. “The Black kids were friends with the Black kids, and the white kids were friends with the white kids, to put it politely. Except for McDavid. He was a friend to everyone. I truly thought he saw no racial dividing lines. He was confident and composed for a scrawny little 15-year-old, and excelled at everything he did.”
Cynthia added that Larry was the only Black student appearing in several group photos in her yearbook, including the Future Business Leaders, Future Teachers, the National Honor Society, the Wildcat Tales yearbook staff and the High School Choir.
“It wasn’t that racial overtones didn’t exist,” she said. “It was that he didn’t choose to pay attention to them. He also had a great sense of humor and was fun to be around without betraying his own sense of worth.”
While many in Plano embraced him, McDavid did encounter hatred. While traveling in Tennesee with the Contemporary Christian Singers, a few of the young men in the choir stopped for a meal at a restaurant. With no provocation, a local man lobbed a sugar dispenser at McDavid, injuring him in the head. Members of the choir quickly surrounded the assailant.
“They told me they thought my dad was going to kill [the assailant],” said Tom Fineout. “But Larry was just very calm. His head was bleeding profusely, so he reached across the counter and asked for a cloth for his head.”
Henrietta Levier, McDavid’s sister, believes Larry’s faith helped him stay positive and courageous.
“When you are a saved person, and live for God, you don’t see color,” she said. “He was a people lover, and people loved him.”
“Larry had such an air of class,” said Tom Fineout. “He would always expect more out of you. If you were going to be a believer, you were expected to act accordingly. Your walk needed to match your talk. And he was one of the funniest people ever.”
McDavid was 23 when he passed away, just a month shy of graduation from college. His body lay in state at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, but the funeral was held at First Baptist, the only gathering place in Plano large enough for the standing-room-only crowd for the funeral. A processional of cars traveling from Plano to Restland Cemetery in Dallas, where Larry was buried, stretched over one mile and a half.
McDavid’s legacy continued in the months after his death and beyond. Jim Fineout at First Baptist organized a musical program, titled “LOVE,” as a tribute to McDavid and to raise funds for music scholarships. In 2009 Mayor Pat Evans declared Feb. 23 as “Larry Kenneth McDavid Day,” with a proclamation citing his many accomplishments as “a fine young man … who made a lasting difference in his short life and in the City of Plano.”
Victor Denson hopes the story of his Uncle Larry will inspire other young people, just as McDavid’s example inspired him and continues to inspire him.
“He always encouraged me to do good, no matter what,” he said. “I hope people will remember him as a Christian guy who loved Plano and who was a servant to all.”
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