Charles L. Mobley shared the joy of music with inner-city children in the Miami-Dade school system, and through music, exposed them to people and places they might never get to see.
When he started a violin class at Liberty City Elementary School in the 1970s, “it was an unheard of move...for black elementary school children in Miami,’’ recalled Bea Hines, a longtime Miami Herald columnist.
He later directed a community choice, which “made beautiful music, singing the classics and reviving the rich Negro Spirituals,’’ said Hines, who was a member. “He was a stickler for perfection.’’
Mobley, born Oct. 9, 1932 in Winter Garden, died Aug. 15 at North Shore Medical Center, near the home he shared with his sister. He was 79.
His sister, Lorraine King, said he’d been bedridden since December 2011, and succumbed to a heart attack.
Mobley, who graduated from Miami’s Booker T. Washington Senior High School, held a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in music from the University of Miami. He started teaching in 1965, at Liberty City Elementary.
“He played piano, organ, violin and cello,’’ King said. “I think he was inspired by our father,’’ a choir director.
In a 1993 interview with The Miami Herald, Mobley said, “Some people ask me why, of all things, would you put a violin in the hands of a Liberty City child? And I say ’Why not?’ ’’
In another interview, he described “a wealth of talent’’ at the school. “It’s like mining gold, diamonds. And it’s a challenge to be able to refine it.’’
The Liberty City Elementary String Ensemble played for such diverse audiences as Princess Grace of Monaco, travelers at Miami International Airport, downtown bank customers, and nursing-home residents and conventioneers.
The after-school orchestra program wasn’t covered by the school’s budget, and Mobley often didn’t get paid for his time.
But, he told the newspaper: “I believe people have a calling. Teaching is mine.’’
Mobley, who was single and never had children, grew close and stayed close to many of his students. Among them: Electra Ford, now living in Arkansas.
The cellist, who played professionally for a time, said Mobley “created a family in the community’’ by collecting youngsters for his orchestras. “He was like a community parent.’’
Not only did Mobley teach, but he took youngsters to the Dade County Youth Fair.
“He’d give us a day to create good memories,’’ said Ford, who suffered from childhood asthma and credits Mobley with persuading her overprotective grandmother to let her learn an instrument — thereby providing her a social life.
“I met some of my truest friends through that program,’’ said Ford, one of many who returned to Liberty City Elementary throughout high school to help with the younger kids.
Another was Melissa Spencer Sherrod, who was 5 when she got involved with music through Mobley. The viola he put in her hands became her passport to college scholarships, a degree in music education, and a teaching position at the same school where it all began: Liberty City Elementary.
“He was such a caring man,’’ said Sherrod. “He was more than a teacher...Music was in him, and he loved the fact that inner city children can do it also — that they can do more than what’s seen on the news. They just need the right mentor.’’
Electra Ford said that through Mobley, students learned “a disciplined way of living’’ by practicing and rehearsing.
“We also got the experience of playing around Miami and all over Florida,’’ she said. “We’d get buses and travel.’’
He would tell his students: “I want you all to believe that you are as bright and as supremely talented as I think you are.”
Many of his students plan to come together one more time, to play at Charles Mobley’s funeral: 11 a.m. Saturday at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, 301 NW Ninth St. Electra Ford said the group will probably play “You’ll Never Walk Alone,’’ some spirituals, and Handel’s “Largo,’’ a staple of the student orchestra.
The service follows a “family hour’’ gathering from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Hall Ferguson & Hewitt funeral home, 1900 NW 54th St.