James A. Hyter Vocal Music Scholarship

This scholarship provides college scholarships to students with vocal talent and a love of music in memory of James A. Hyter.

History of the Fund

The James A. Hyter Vocal Music Scholarship Fund was established when Elizabeth Nielsen, a legal secretary, heard Mr. Hyter perform spirituals at the “Calvary & the Arts” series at Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Memphis.  She helped to secure funding from her employer, Morgan Keegan, to establish the fund.

Although fame came relatively late in life for Mr. Hyter, he sang “the low notes”, his specialty, for most of his life. A resident of Memphis since he was a week old, he began his singing career in the Centenary United Methodist Church choir while in grammar school. He also sang with the Booker T. Washington High School Glee Club under the direction of the late Emma Corporal, who inspired him to pursue a musical career.  After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 1940, he dreamed of attending Tuskegee University to major in brick masonry and minor in music, but lacked enough money to do so.  Instead, he spent three years serving in the United States Army, and afterwards returned to Memphis.

Mr. Hyter’s first dramatic role came in 1968 at Memphis State University when Dr. Keith Kennedy, Director of Speech and Drama, cast him in their production of Showboat.  The role of Joe, which was expanded for Hyter, is the role he reprised for many years to great acclaim.  He also starred in local operas and toured Europe as a soloist with the Greater Memphis Chorale.  In 1996 he was cast as the “crying man” in the film adaptation of John Grisham’s The Rainmaker.  That same year, Mr. Hyter realized a long-time dream with the release of his album Musically Yours, James A. Hyter

Most people knew him as “Ol’ Man River” for his soloist role with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra at the Sunset Symphony.  He lent his deep, resonant voice to those familiar lyrics for 21 years, while hundreds of thousands clamored for encore after encore, until his retirement from the event in 1998.  A historical marker was erected in Tom Lee Park in 1999 to honor his contributions to the City of Memphis through the Sunset Symphony.  Mr. Hyter had more than 30 years of experience singing with the Memphis Symphony Chorus and he continued to sing in the choir at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church until his death in April 2009.

Mr. Hyter gave his music, his heart, and his life to serving the Memphis community.  Through the scholarship fund, Mr. Hyter’s legacy will live as long as the Mississippi flows in the voices of future Hyter scholars.

Eligibility Requirements

All applicants must:

  • reside or attend college in the Memphis area;
  • be accepted by and plan to attend a two-year or four-year college or university and major in vocal studies;
  • possess vocal talent accompanied by a love of music. Qualified applicants will be invited to a vocal audition. Applicants chosen for the audition should be prepared to perform a musical selection in each of the following categories:
  • Classical - traditional concert repertoire
  • Gospel or Spiritual - music of diverse culture
  • and Show Tunes - such as selections from Broadway musicals;

  •  have a current grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale; and
  • submit the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis scholarship application form and the required attachments.

Renewal applicants must contact Vanessa Langston at (901) 722-0032 or vlangston [at] cfgm [dot] org for a renewal application.

A complete application includes:

  •   completed Community Foundation of Greater Memphis scholarship  application form;
  • one-page personal statement outlining education or career goals;
  • names of and sheet music for songs you plan to perform;
  • two current letters of recommendation from teachers, clergy, or persons other than family members who are familiar with your skills and abilities;
  • most recent high school or college transcript;
  • copy of your ACT and/or SAT scores; and a
  • copy of your Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) Student Aid Report (SAR) and Expected Family Contribution (EFC) information, OR your College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile. 

This scholarship may be awarded to multiple students each year. The total amount available to award is approximately $4,250.

Applications for this scholarship are due April 2, 2018.