Some are born with a silver spoon. Erslyn Ferguson Anders was born with a silver clef.
“Music meant the world to her and her mission in life was to share that love of music with everybody,” said Anders’ daughter, Nina Anders Fields.
Anders, who lived in Biscayne Gardens and who died at age 81 on Monday, was a retired music coordinator for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Her work at Miami-Dade and Broward area schools — Mary Bethune Elementary School, J.R.E. Lee Educational Center, Frank C. Martin International K-8, Lorah Park Elementary, Sylvania Heights Elementary, and Olinda Elementary — dates to the 1960s after she earned her bachelor’s in music at Talladega College and a master’s in education at the University of Miami.
But she really knew music was her calling while she sat at an aunt’s piano bench that was too tall for her when she was a little girl at home in Asheville, N.C. Her feet might have been perched too high above the piano’s pedals but her fingers found the keys just fine. She began lessons at 9 and was playing for the St. James AME Church choir by the time she was 12, much to her mom’s delight.
Mom, Nina Freeman Ferguson, had already detailed the life roles her children would play, granddaughter Fields, who was named for her grandmother, recalled.
“She picked careers for her kids and told my mom, all the while she was growing up, ‘You’d be a music teacher’ and she told another, ‘You’d be a business teacher’ and another, ‘You’ll be an attorney,’ and they kind of followed that lead,” Fields said.
Anders listened. She knew her destiny.
“My mama always told me I would be a music teacher,” she said in a 1986 Miami Herald profile. “I have a very musical family.”
And she made sure her family, which included her late husband Walter, known for his resonant baritone, would be in tune, too.
“She was an elegant woman, full of strength, full of love,” Fields said. “She shared [music] with us in the family and introduced all of my three children to music and one of my sons is applying to music schools now.”
In 1975, Anders was selected to provide instructional support for schools in the North Central Region of the Miami-Dade Public School system and was its districtwide music coordinator until 1991, a role she championed.
“We don't have enough minority children in the talented program,” Anders said in a 1987 Miami Herald story on summer programs for at-risk students in the county. The impassioned educator promoted music, of course.
Just a year before, in 1986, Anders’ arrangement of the spiritual, Oh, What a Beautiful City, her first major creative attempt outside of teaching, was published. On first release, long before music downloads, and in a genre far removed from the popular music on the radio that year from the likes of Madonna and Whitney Houston, Anders’ gospel arrangement sold a fast 1,000 copies at 85 cents a pop.
“I was thrilled,” she said. “I never really thought anyone would want to buy this.”
Anders is survived by her children Walter C. Anders Jr., Nina Anders Fields, grandchildren Aaron Anders, Elliott Fields, Wesley Fields, Christa Fields, her sister Elaine Ferguson Adger, and brothers William Ferguson, Howard Daniel Ferguson, and James Ferguson II.
There will be a viewing at 6 p.m. Friday at The Church of the Open Door, 6001 NW Eighth Ave., Miami and a 10 a.m. Saturday service at the church.