Esther Acolatse was just 4 years old when she began to sing with the choir at her grandmother’s Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Lomé, Togo. Her debut on Ghana Radio followed at the age of 8, when she sang, “Lead me Lord / Lead me in thy righteousness / Make thy way plain before my face / for it is thou Lord / thou Lord only / That maketh me dwell in safety.”
“This song has stayed with me and constitutes a large part of my daily devotional life,” says Acolatse, assistant professor of pastoral theology at Duke Divinity School. “It is indispensable for discernment and guidance.”
A member of the choir at Triangle Presbyterian Church in Durham, N.C., Acolatse has appeared as a soloist for worship services at Duke and Goodson chapels. She also regularly shares her vocal gifts at Live at the Lampstand, a monthly lunchtime revue featuring students, staff, and faculty of the school.
“For me, singing is preaching in tune,” she says. “It offers me the opportunity to say something direct and personal about the God we talk about in our theological work. Many times I’ve found that a great hymn says something more profoundly than the text assigned for a particular discussion; bringing that to my students is an added benefit of years of singing.”
My current favorite is John Rutter’s A Song in Season recorded by the Cambridge Singers, which features music across the church year from Epiphany to Easter.
Favorite Recording Artist
For contemporary Christian, I like Babbie Mason ; for gospel, Andrae Crouch is ageless. Both have a deep spiritual sense that flows through their memorable and compelling lyrics. You do not just hear them; you are forced to listen—every phrase matters.
Most Recently Recommended
The Best of Andrae Crouch by Andrae Crouch and the Disciples.
This album is still the best compilation of praise and worship, testimony, and Christian discipleship that I have heard to date. You could say this is the Bible in tune.
Looking Forward to…
The soundtrack from For Colored Girls . In spite of the controversial content of the film, the music is hauntingly stirring.
First musical memory
I believe it was the lullaby in my mother tongue, lilting and sweet, and strong at the same time: Dzedze Vi Nye . The first recorded music I remember was Day by Day by E.T. Mensah, known as the king of Ghanaian highlife, from his album of the same title.
What music do you most enjoy from your native West Africa?
I figured long ago that my soul doesn’t speak English. When “deep calls to deep,” I listen to African music, particularly Ewe (my mother tongue), with its polyrhythmic percussion and rich, unpredictable pentatonic melodies. In times of stress I turn to Kobialka’s Velvet Dreams , featuring Pachelbel’s Canon in D . Combined with Bach and Vivaldi, this music creates a healing environment for the psyche to return to center.
Is there a particular artist you turn to during Lent, and at Easter?
I am usually shuttling between Ray Boltz and Sandi Patty, two contemporary Christian singers who bring depth and pathos to their performances, taking you to the scene they are painting in music. Fornewcomers to this genre, I recommend Watch the Lamb by Ray Boltz and Via Dolorosa by Sandi Patty .