Flint, MI— Bernard Terry was one of a kind.
He was a master music producer who recorded and mixed records for notable Flint musicians like Ready For the World and The Dayton Family, as well as just about any musician he could make time for—even those just starting out—at his SilverSun Recording Studio.
He was 69 years old and tech-savvy, excited for a future of self-driving cars, technological advancements and innovation that older folks might typically fear. He’d talk your ear off about that, the stock market, and anything else he’d been reading and learning about if you let him.
He was a father, a grandfather, and an honorary dad and mentor to several musicians who recorded with him, and got to soak up some of his wisdom, and encouragement along the way.
He was a hard worker to a fault, obsessed with getting the best sound possible, working all the way through the night, sometimes without sleeping, and had a schedule that kept him booked several months in advance.
Those who knew him call him a “jewel of Flint,” an “icon,” an “O.G.,” an “elder,” and a “genius.” But the same people also called him “humble,” “sincere,” “accepting,” “non-judgmental,” and “loving,” in a way that someone with his connections and expertise might not be in this industry.
They also call him a lifesaver. On May 13 he pulled a baby from a deadly car accident that occurred outside of his home. Just a few hours after the crash, Terry had a heart attack and died.
Although his death was sudden and shocking, the fact that he saved a life before he lost his own comes as a surprise to no one that knew him. That’s just the kind of person he was.
Terry, or “B.T.,” worked with all kinds of musicians regardless of age, experience, or genre.
William Ketchum III, a writer and editor for Mic who has interviewed some of rap and hip hop’s biggest stars, recalled seeing Terry’s name everywhere, attached to practically every Flint artist he encountered, when he was a reporter for The Flint Journal.
The artists who have been around in Flint for a while would talk about Terry’s impact. Young artists just getting their start in Flint would talk about Terry too, and call him a mentor.
“So you have…someone who has been around for a long time, and who has basically worked with a bunch of the artists who have big foundational roles in the city’s music scene from like, the ’80s, and ’90s, but you also have newer artists who cite him as a role model, and as someone who sort of shows people the ropes,” Ketchum said.
Ketchum tried on a few occasions to interview him for a story, but Terry told him interviews weren’t his thing. He wasn’t looking for the spotlight, although he could have had it if he wanted it.
“Since Flint doesn’t have a lot of celebrity and stardom here, he could have easily been seen as the biggest celebrity in the city, just by the nature of who he worked with,” Ketchum said. “But it looks like that wasn’t what he wanted to do.”
Raheen “Shoe String” Peterson, of The Dayton Family, recalled Terry getting offered a job at a big music engineering company in New York, but turning it down. Peterson, now 48, had been recording with Terry since he was just 13 years old, and considered him a father figure. He thanks God that Terry never decided to leave.
“He was just a person that wanted to stay in his community,” Peterson said. “Every time he said he was gonna get a big job and do something…he would get to thinking about it, and there is just so much love here and so many people that depended on him, and I was one of those people.”
This made Terry an incredible asset to musicians in Flint, Ketchum said, where there is a limited number of recording studios and professionals with the kinds of connections he had.
“So what makes him irreplaceable is that he has so many connections…and in the music industry, connections mean a lot. It’s not just how talented you are. It’s a matter of getting the right advice, getting the right introduction to somebody,” Ketchum said. “I believe that Bernard Terry was willing to give a lot of that advice and willing to make a lot of those introductions…he was basically like a lifeline into the music industry in a city that has very few of those people.”
Not only was he sharing his skills, but he shared his wisdom about the industry and other aspects of life with the artists that came to his studio.
He was dropping jewels on you, as Sophia Janell Taylor, a musician who started recording with Terry when she was 15, put it.
Terry was a busy man. If in May you called and asked to book time with him, he likely wouldn’t be available until October. But it would be worth the wait.
“He was in demand, and you know, there’s plenty of studios around here. But oftentimes, it’s the energy, it’s not just the studio… and so often, that’s why a person would choose Bernard Terry to go to,” Taylor said. “Not only was he an absolute expert at everything that he does musically, but he was going to drop jewels on you. He was going to talk to you about investing in stocks, and life, and the world, and the music industry, and not just the music part, but the business of music.”
Terry was constantly learning. Even when he was the best, he would tell you he was still learning.
Melvin Riley, lead singer of Ready for the World, said he used to call Terry a cyborg, because he was smart and innovative, with an engine that was running 24/7.
“For years, I could have left at 17, and come back at 55, and Bernard would have still been in the same chair, you know, doing his thing, which is seeking the best sounds possible, the best studio equipment that would provide us with the best options,” Riley said.
Peterson said this was the way he saw Terry treat every artist that came into his studio.
“He would put his foot in it, no matter if…one person is paying him $3,000 and the other person is paying him $100,” Peterson said. “If he takes it on, he’s going to do just as much for that person paying $100, as that person paying him $3,000, because his name is on it. That’s just the way he was.”
Taylor recalls Terry offering free studio time as a prize in music contests she held, and she wondered how he could possibly have the time to do that, or pay his bills with all of his generosity.
Peterson remembers telling Terry he needed a song finished within two days, and being told to come into the studio right then, because Terry had thirty minutes he could spare.
Riley said Terry would drop everything to make sure he got you on the right track.
“He was a focused, genuine, sincere person that would help you out with any musical ideas or questions, whatever it was,” Riley said.
He helped people build speakers, learn to use equipment, and set up their studios.
If Terry had a blessing, he would use it to bless others, Peterson said, whether it was his music skills, or his wisdom about anything in life.
Now all of the people he helped and taught are like his “disciples.”
“Bernard’s shoes are unfillable…yet, we are his disciples,” Taylor said. “He definitely planted seeds, and we are all miniature disciples of Bernard Terry. I know for a fact, I’m better because of him.”
Funeral services will be held this Friday and Thursday.