In 1949, American writer Joseph Campbell gave fellow writers one of the most brilliant blueprints for storytelling. After discovering that great stories follow the same pattern, he published The Hero With 1,000 Faces. In it, he introduced “The Hero’s Journey,” eventually adapted into a 12-stage explanation of a central character’s path. Good narrative writers will tell you, if you want to tell a compelling story, you need to incorporate this literary device.
If I wanted to tell a story about a humble hero, I could weave in doctoral dissertation-like language to describe his skills, credentials, and contributions. Honestly, though, Campbell had the right idea. Thus begins the story of our hero, Cleveland Thaddeus Wilson.
“This is where the hero exists before his present story begins, oblivious of the adventures to come.” Although named Cleveland Thaddeus Wilson on the day of his birth, his father, Seventh-day Adventist minister Thaddeus Russel Wilson, lovingly refers to his firstborn son as “Murphy.” As the child of an Adventist pastor, the family moves through Northeastern Conference until his father arrives at Emmanuel Temple in Buffalo, New York. Here is where Murphy discovers the Emmanuel Temple Chorale.
Call to Adventure
“The hero’s adventure begins when he receives a call to action.” To know
Murphy is to know he would argue about his “call.” Yes, it’s his life, and he should have first dibs in discussing when he was “called.” But, some may agree that sitting in the alto section of that choir as a little boy is where it actually happened. Yes, he is like any other young boy who enjoys playing with cars, trains, and pick-up sports games in the street. But, music calls him here and begins to unknowingly build the blocks to play a large part in his life.
Refusal of The Call
“Although the hero may be eager to accept the quest, at this stage, he will have fears that need overcoming.” At this point in the story, we find our hero in the 1960s on Oakwood College’s (now Oakwood University) campus in Huntsville, Alabama. He refuses to join a group or even sing in the earshot of others. Because he’s surrounded by, according to him, musicians who can sing circles around him, he keeps quiet. So, he sits through many Adventist Youth Society programs, concerts, chapels, and church services, and thereby sits on his God-given talent.
Meeting the Mentor
“At this crucial turning point where the hero desperately needs guidance, he meets a mentor figure who gives him something he needs.” And, Murphy — dragged kicking and screaming by dedicated friends — is forced to audition for Harold Anthony, Oakwood College Aeolians director. Beyond that, our hero acknowledges his mentorship by Fred Willis Sr., attributing his ability to feel and sing his way through music directly to him.
Crossing the Threshold
“The hero is now ready to act upon his call to adventure and truly begin his quest.” Our hero joins a more contemporary group, The Capelle Chorale, on campus. He’s happy to just sing first tenor. But, when the group’s director doesn’t return the following semester, and with no one to take on the responsibility, group members encourage him to direct a song since he is “standing on the end.” At this moment, he steps forward and takes the reins. Known for his ability, Murphy is often tasked to direct the Oakwood College Choir while director Jon Robertson, D.M.A., is away, an opportunity not usually given to a non-music major.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
“Now, finally out of his comfort zone, the hero is confronted with an ever more difficult series of challenges that test him in various ways.” At this point in the story, our hero gains an ally in life when he meets and marries a local preacher’s daughter, and together they start a musical legacy that would stand the test of time. The test? It was introducing contemporary gospel music to a “musically conservative” church in the 1970s with a small choir dubbed Murphy’s Band of Mercenaries. Here, our hero faces many verbal and physical attacks from church members and ministers alike. But, others encourage the ministry. So, our hero, with his ally by his side, presses forward.
Approach to The Inmost Cave
“As the hero approaches the cave, he must make final preparations before taking that final leap into the great unknown.” This is the part where we highlight Murphy and Antoinette’s 40-year musical legacy together. For him, it’s safe. He trusts her to choose the songs, while he directs. Fourth Sabbaths at First Church in Huntsville become a rite of passage for church musicians everywhere. Inside this space, together, they create memorable arrangements of songs like “The Lord is Blessing Me,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “God’s Still Moving,” and the choir arrangement of Elenore Wright’s “A Better Day.” Albums would be released, singles with famous country singers would go gold, and God would bless. But, our hero will shy away from words like “legacy,” “world-renowned,” and “famous.”
“The ordeal may be a test or a deep inner crisis that the hero must face to survive or for the world in which the hero lives to continue to exist.” Sadly, this is the part of the story where Antoinette dies. And, for a moment, for our hero, the music goes with her. Murphy decides, on this devastating day in 2013, that the music, choir, and legacy should cease. But, God uses this heartbreaking moment to call his name. This could take us back to another “Call to Adventure,” but honestly, this is where the story continues to build momentum.
Reward (Seizing the Sword)
“After surviving death and overcoming his greatest personal challenge, the hero emerges from battle as a stronger person.” Now, after his road-to-Damascus moment, Murphy shares a new testimony with everyone. He challenges everyone he meets to discover the day they gave their life to Christ. With this kind of inspiration, this kind of charge, he approaches what he always knew with a different kind of fervor
The Road Back
“At this stage, the hero must return home with his reward, but this time with that of acclaim.” It’s 2014, and songs he thought he could never sing again have a more authentic, more profound meaning. Our hero conducts workshops, mass choirs, Sunday choirs, and even orchestras. Camp Meetings would have their minister of music, chorales would regain their first tenor, and the Inspirational Choir would continue past its 40-year ministry. Indeed, Murphy has a new song. That little boy called to music ministry in Buffalo, New York, is now in his 70s, singing Christ’s praises!
“This is the climax in which the hero must have his dangerous encounter with death.” Churches all over the world in 2020 find their ministries facing death. In a world where choirs are dying, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to end it all. Here, our story could end, and everyone would understand. Circumstances beyond his control could defeat our hero. Yet, fully robed, and with nine indoor singers, growing to outdoor, masked, and socially distanced rehearsals, just for morale, he keeps fighting. He keeps going in the face of obstacles and even more devastating losses.
Return With the Elixir
At this stage of the journey, we find our hero changed and looking forward to a new hope and a new future.
Murphy Wilson, my hero, my daddy, is still directing the nearly 50-year-old Inspirational Choir, still mentoring musicians, still uniquely “feeling” music. I could write so much more about this living legacy, spanning volumes of books that would fill multiple shelves.
As a screenwriter, I can sum it up in a simple elevator pitch: Musician and choir director Cleveland T. Wilson uses his 70 years of experience in music and conducting to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others and create a space for people to realize that it’s never too late to “find your day.”
“The Hero’s Journey” is an archetypal blueprint for our lives: https://innerpeaceouterjoy.com/the-heros-journey-an-archetypal-blueprint-for-our-lives/.
To submit an “Unsung Hero” article for publication in the Southern Tidings, email to email@example.com. ~Editors
Southern Union | February 2024