Antwain Satterfield grew up under the influence of music. His ears were always filled with his dad’s whistling and the warm, raspy voice of his mother. Music was the milk he was raised on—and he couldn’t get enough of it.
He used to sit hours at a time at his grandmother’s upright, out-of-tune piano, plunking the tunes in his head with his right index finger. When his parents signed him up for Mary White’s piano lessons, the doors of talent flung open.
Mary White could sight read like no one else—but Antwain played without the music sheet. Mrs. White would play music and tell Antwain to copy it. The music flowed into his ears and through his fingers as he played without once looking at the book, adding and dropping notes to his pleasure. She would shake her head and sigh, “Boy why would you waste your mama’s money by not practicing?” The smart-mouthed boy retorted, “When God bless you with an ear like mine, you don’t have to practice reading it, Mrs. White.” Antwain scoffed at the need for structure.
He would’ve cringed to know what was in store for him. “(Mary White) believed in me a lot more than I believed in myself,” he says. She and Antwain’s mother entered their excelling student in the Walker County Progressive Baptist District talent show. Out of five acts, he came in fifth place. “DEAD LAST,” he groans. “That was a very embarrassing but much needed humbling experience.”
Apparently he still had some humbling to do. The choir director of his church, Mr. James McNealey, was a brilliant musician at the head of the best church music program around. “I could always tell that he was very fond of me,” Antwain remarks.
One night Mr. NcNealey let Antwain and a few others join the youth choir, but singled out Antwain alone to sing a solo. Swelling with pride, Antwain took the microphone and motioned for him to stop the music. “Mr. Mac,” the speakers reverberated through the room, “you are not going to make a fool out of me.” One lady witnessing the rehearsal stiffened—she didn’t allow her grandkids to talk to anyone like that. Antwain’s grandmother stormed up to the choir stand, grabbed Antwain by the ear, and marched him down to apologize to Mr. Mac.
He watched the rest of the rehearsal from the front pew.
But this wasn’t the end. “After the rehearsal,” Antwain says, “Mr. Mac pulled me to the side and told me that I had something in me and I needed to use it for God. Many years passed by before I actually understood what he meant.” It would take some time for the truth to strike a note in his heart—and a little piercing honesty from his grandmother.
Antwain’s grandmother had a brilliant voice, often led the choir, and was one of the best concert narrators around. “My grandmother,” Antwain says, “was my greatest musical influence.” One night Antwain asked her what she thought of his performance in one of the concerts at their church, anticipating her glowing approval. He had thrown the church into an uproar of applause; every one was on their feet, clapping and shouting. Antwain was shaken by the words she said. “She left me with the best response that I live by to this day,” Antwain says. “She told me that I needed to gain an understanding of what I was singing, stop performing, and start ministering through music. I asked her again and she simply said, ‘Stop performing and minister.’”
Next year, Antwain will celebrate 20 years of music ministry. He remembers his first leadership position as pianist of First Baptist Church of Frisco as a grueling but life-changing experience. “It was a hard task—I was always nervous, not that skilled, and I didn’t know how to deal with church people. That’s when I really started seeking guidance from God. He led me back to those lessons that I learned from my grandmother, Mrs. White, and Mr. McNealey. I stayed faithful to Him and to His ministry and He never led me astray.”
Music has carried Antwain all over the face of the earth—into the heart of weddings, churches, and venues all across the United States, Mexico, Jamaica, France, Indonesia, and Thailand. “Music is not just some progression of humanity,” he insists. “It has helped define our very existence. It is not called the universal language for no reason. It unites masses of people.”
And Antwain has mastered this language. Many are moved by his eloquence, little guessing that he is the one being carried away.
“Music is my drug of choice,” he declares. “And I love being under the influence of it.” 78
Image by Blakeney Cox
Originally published in 78 magazine in Oct/Nov 2016