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ACU Remembers: Dr. Charles Nelson


Dr. Charles Nelson

Dr. Charles Wade Nelson, Abilene Christian University professor emeritus of music and renowned bass-baritone vocalist who performed concerts around the world, died June 1 at age 92 in Denton, Texas.

Plans for a private family memorial service are pending.

He was born March 13, 1926, in Fort Worth, Texas, and graduated from the University of North Texas Demonstration School. While still in high school at age 15, he sang in the bass section of UNT’s University Choir, and was its principal bass soloist by age 17.

A two-year stay in the Army included service in Italy and at Camp Howze in Gainesville, Texas – where he met Betty Jean Brown in 1945, and they married May 30, 1947.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in music (1950) and a master’s degree in music education (1951) from UNT before teaching choir at Carthage (1950-52), Harlingen (1952-55) and Edinburg (1955) high schools in Texas; Lipscomb University (1959-68 as professor and chair of music), and Texas A&M-Commerce University (1968-84 as professor of choral music).

He joined ACU’s faculty as professor of music and artist-in-residence in 1986, later becoming chair of the vocal division and director of choral activities. ACU awarded him an honorary Doctor of Music degree in 1987 and he retired in 1988.

Nelson was a beloved vocalist with an extensive repertoire including the major choral works of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. He performed more than 2,300 times with 116 colleges and universities and 71 symphony orchestras in 49 states and 15 nations. He shared the stage with conducting legends Robert Shaw and Pablo Casals; performed with major U.S. symphonies in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville and Kansas City, and in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Vilnius, Lithuania; and was featured in hundreds of solo recitals.

In 1986, he headlined ACU music department concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater in Washington, D.C. In 1993 he performed a recital for Ann Richards and guests at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin.

He was a co-founder of the Voice Institute of West Texas at ACU, presenting groundbreaking research on laryngeal function in musicians in 1987 with Dr. Jon Ashby (’64) and Austin King, M.D., at the annual Symposium on the Care of the Professional Voice at the Juilliard School in New York City.

Nelson held several offices with the Texas Music Educators Association and the National Association of Teachers of Singing. His presence was a staple of those and other professional organizations.

He was preceded in death by his parents, John B. and Madge Nelson; Betty, his wife of 66 years; a son, Byron Nelson III; a brother, former ACU trustee and PGA golf legend Dr. Byron Nelson; and a sister, Margaret Ellen (Nelson ’42) Sherman.

Among survivors are a son, Charles David Nelson; a daughter, Bari Ann (Nelson) Nicolls; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Memorials may be made online to ACU’s Charles and Betty Nelson Endowed Vocal Music Scholarship ( or Gift Records, ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132).

— Ron Hadfield

June 11, 2018

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