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CBN.com "It was my everything. It was my home. It was my woman. Cocaine became my everything. I loved it just that much," says Howard Tate.
Howard fell into a cycle of drug addiction that took him far from his glory days as a hit making blues singer. As a child, he sang in his father’s church choir. Eventually, he joined a doo-wop group. Howard was soon signed as a solo artist, paired with songwriter and producer Jerry Ragavoy. They cut an album. But he still hadn’t given up his day job. Howard had just returned home from mixing brick mortar when a limousine pulled up.
Says Howard, "Out jumps Bill Fox, Jerry Ragavoy’s partner and says, 'Man, get in. You got to get a plane right away. You’re playing with Marvin Gaye tomorrow night. The record just broke. It’s No. 1 in mostly every city in the country.' They had the radio on. And he said, 'Now, the No. 1 song in Detroit… and here come "Ain’t nobody home." '
"I didn’t get a chance to go back home because they said, 'You got to go on tour. You’re going on tour with Joe Tex, the great Joe Tex. Joe Tex, Mary Wells, the Drifters, Freddie Scott, William Bell, Pigmeat Markum -- you’re going on 105 one-nighters through the rural South. They call it the Chitlin’ Circuit.' "
Howard Tate became a byword in the blues music, but fame wasn’t paying off as he had expected.
"All they gave me was a brand-new Cadillac every year," he says. "I had plenty of diamond rings on and diamond watches, mohair suits, $200-$300 shoes, and $1,000 in my pocket. But I couldn’t get paid. That’s why I walked away from the music and I was so bitter with the music business."
Howard fell into depression. He tried to soothe his pain with alcohol and drugs. Then, early one morning while he was in a deep sleep, a fire broke out in his house. Howard, his wife, and two of his children made it out. His oldest daughter, who was learning disabled, had panicked and backed into a corner of her room. Howard ran back into the burning house to save her.
"I had her under my arm," Howard explains, "and I jumped back over the bed and fell through the floor. The floor had burned out. The next thing I knew was the fireman had me out down the stairs and I was saying, 'Did you get my daughter? Did you get my daughter?' I was burned."
Howard’s daughter didn’t survive.
"It was totally devastating," Howard recalls, "because I loved my children, all my children, very much and they were the world to me."
The grief and guilt took a heavy toll on Howard. Eventually, he left his family and started living on the street.
"I lived for the drug," he says. "I would walk the street in daylight and walk for miles and miles to do yard work, clean gutters, and wash cars and earn $5. As soon as I made $5 or $10 or $20, I was right back to the dope man. When I couldn’t make any money, on days when it was raining too bad or it was too cool, I would beg.
"I had to worry about whether I was going to get bitten by a rat or something or whether I was going to lie down on a hypodermic needle that some junkie had thrown down," he continues. "It was just no peace. There was no peace to be had."
Howard lived on the street for 10 years. Most of his fans thought he was dead. One bitterly cold night, he sought refuge in the vestibule of St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral’s rectory in Camden, New Jersey.
"It was 15 degrees and I prayed and asked God. I thought I was going to die that night because it was so cold," he remembers.
Early that morning, a priest discovered Howard freezing on the porch.
While our crew was video-taping at the church, that same priest, Monsignor Robert Mc Dermott, reunited with Howard. They hadn’t seen each other since that cold winter day in 1994.
"You just said, 'Son, come on in,' " Howard tells McDermott, remembering his past. "You made a cup of coffee for me and a sandwich and you said, 'Sit there and warm up.' When daylight broke, you gave me $3. You said, 'Get the bus and find a shelter because you can’t make it another night out here cold as it was.' I’m just glad to see you. Come on and give me a hug."
Howard found a shelter and a job away from Camden—and his drug dealers.
"I got this urging for God. I started reading the Bible. I started going to church," he says.
But every payday he was still tempted to buy drugs. And sometimes he gave in to that urge.
"I would jump on the bus, go to Camden, and spend every dime of my paycheck," Howard admits.
Howard wanted to break his drug addiction, but he didn’t have the strength to do it. Out of desperation, he asked God to help him.
"Only when I called on the name of the Lord Jesus did I find the strength to resist getting on that bus. I felt relief instantly. It was a miracle, an absolute miracle. The sweats left me instantly, my guts untwisted, and I was as calm as an ice cube, you might say, only when I used that name," Howard recounts. "God brought me off of the drugs without any withdrawals. God showed me His awesome powers, and it blew my mind when I was able to resist the drug when I’d call on His name. I said, 'Well, I’d better connect here if He’ll let me connect.' I came here [to the church building] and got on my knees and I asked God, 'Lord, I know You are real now. Give me everything You have got. I’m not going to get up off my knees until You bless me.' About that time something hit me around the crown of my head. It went all the way down to the bottom of my feet. I don’t know where God had me, but He had me out there, and He was talking to me: 'Now I’m going to use you. I want you to go into the world and preach My gospel, preach My Word.' "
Howard took that command to heart, and today, through his ministry Gift of the Cross, he shares the hope he found in God as a hospital chaplain.
But Howard’s story doesn’t end here. While he had disappeared from the music scene, his music had developed a “cult following.” Most people assumed that Howard Tate was dead until he was recognized in a grocery store. His former partner, Jerry Ragavoy, wanted to meet with him.
"I prayed on the plane. I said, 'I really don’t know if I can sing, Lord, but if I’ve lost my voice, will You give it back to me?' I opened my mouth, and it was all there. Jerry literally fell right out of the chair. He could not believe that I could be hitting those notes like that," Howard says.
Howard and Jerry teamed up again and released a new album, aptly entitled Rediscovered.
Although he still sings the blues, Howard is not living the blues. He’s using his newfound fame to talk about his new life in Jesus Christ.
"It’s Jesus Christ’s Spirit that lives inside of this body. This is just a temple that I’m housing the Lord’s Spirit in. Howard Tate’s dead. God killed that man, and I was born again in the Lord Jesus. I died to the world, but I’m alive in Christ," he says.
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