Leon began his piano studies at the age of six with a local teacher he knew as “Mr. Ben.” His grandmother, Mrs. Mary Bookman, became a religious mentor in the musical growth of her grandson. Being from a family of devout Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals, he gained an integrated understanding of faith.  The defining event of Leon’s career and life came in April 1977 when he was invited to direct the struggling Gospel choir of Saints Paul and Augustine Catholic Church in Washington, DC. Embraced and mentored by the church community, he converted to Catholicism and made his life’s work the integration of the energy and emotion of African-American Gospel music with the traditions and rituals of the Catholic liturgy. From 1977 until 1994, he was the Director of Liturgical Music at the Saint Augustine Catholic Church and an instructor of choir and music appreciation at the Saint Augustine Elementary School, and in 1982, he founded and directed the Archdiocesan Mass Choir for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.

He was an internationally recognized African-American composer, arranger, liturgist and recording artist. The following are among his works: “Mass of Saint Augustine,” published by GIA, as well as “He Has the Power” (GIA) and “Deliver the Word” (OCP), recorded by the Saint Augustine Gospel Choir; “God Has Done Marvelous Things,” an artistic collaboration with David Haas and Roberts’ Revival (GIA); “The Coming,” recorded by Roberts’ Revival and published by OCP; and his most recent recording, “Come Bless the Lord,” a live concert recording (OCP).  He was a major contributor to the first African-American Catholic hymnal, “Lead Me, Guide Me” (GIA) which included twenty liturgical settings and was distributed nationally in 1987. In 1993, his psalm settings were published in the African-American hymnal of the Episcopal Church entitled “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and he also worked with the late Sister Thea Bowman to produce her “Songs of My People” and “Round the Glory Manger.”

Leon was a clinician and lecturer for many organizations including the National Office of Black Catholics, the National Pastoral Musicians Conventions, the East Coast Conference for Religious Education, Notre Dame University, the Catholic University of America’s Liturgical Studies program and many dioceses and archdioceses.  In 1994, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, to become the Florence Van Keuren Artist-in-Residence at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ. He served as the director for Concord’s Gospel Chorus and the Male Chorus. He also was music director of the Union Theological Seminary Gospel Choir in Manhattan. In 1998, he was honored by the Office of Black Ministry of the Archdiocese of New York. During that ceremony at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York’s Archbishop John Cardinal O’Connor presented him with the “Special Achievement Award” for his many contributions to Black Catholic worship and the development of liturgical music.  His music was and is nothing less than filled with power – filled with the Spirit, and filled with God’s signature.

On Friday evening, January 22, 1999, at Providence Hospital, Leon left his earthly home to be with his God, after being diagnosed with stomach cancer just two weeks earlier. I remember a mutual friend going to visit him in the hospital in those final days, and Leon told him, “well, I have bad news and I have good news.  The bad news is that I am not going be able to beat this cancer.  The good news?  Christ reigns!”

Thank the good Lord that his music is still with us (see the listings below).  My being blest and able to work, collaborate, pray and share faith with Leon – and the fabulous people of Robert’s Revival – was a tremendous blessing in my life.  My song, “Take Me Home” was composed for his funeral.  I miss his talent, I miss his music, and most of all – I miss my friend.     (DH: 3.13.18)

Please consider when ordering any of these resources, to choose, whenever possible, ordering directly from the particular publisher (the link for each item is usually provided), rather than going to Amazon or similar outlets.  When you order from these distributors, the royalties for the composer, as well as the publisher, are greatly compromised, as a substantial portion of the royalties go to the ordering source.  The options to order from Amazon are provided here in many cases (and obviously in some cases, certain items may be out of print from the publisher), but most often, you should be able to obtain these resources from the specific publisher. So, think about it … choose differently, support the composers and authors who have created these resources, and click on the links provided here to order directly from the publisher.

Leon’s recordings & collections:

When you click on each title, an audio clip is available

Leon Roberts Song Videos:

Mary’s Canticle by Leon Roberts
This is the Day by Leon Roberts
To You, O Lord, I Lift My Soul by Leon Roberts