January 18, 1969
Helena (Phillips County) native Roberta Martin, famed gospel singer, died of cancer in Chicago, Illinois. She reportedly refused painkilling drugs during the time leading up to her death, believing that God could perform a miracle. At her funeral, 50,000 Chicagoans passed through Mount Pisgah Baptist Church to pay their last respects. Martin was one of the most significant figures during gospel music’s golden age (1945–1960). A performer and publisher, she reached iconic status in Chicago, where she influenced numerous artists and had an impact on an entire industry with her innovation and business acumen. Martin was honored posthumously by the Smithsonian Institution in 1981 with a colloquium and by the U.S. Postal Service in 1998 with a commemorative postage stamp.