The birthday celebration is followed by dinner in the church dining hall. Photos by Kelvin Braxton PhotographyFront row l-r; Mother Bonds and Lorna Shipp (daughter-in-law); Back row l-r; Joyce Jenkins (daughter), Joseph Shipp (son), Apostle Robert T. Shipp (son), Era Marshall (daughter), and Dr. Lona Bibbs (godddaughter).

By Natalie R. Bell

NASHVILLE, TN — More than 200 well-wishers filled the sanctuary of an East Nashville church, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, to honor and celebrate Mother Ilar Shipp Bonds on her 100th birthday.

Most of the guests had traveled hundreds of miles to get there, from both East and West Coasts, and several places in between. 

The family of Mother Bonds includes not only her seven children and their spouses and children, but also an extended family of loving friends who have come to know her through her supportive relationships with their families in her church community. 

She is the mother of the True Christian Pentecostal Witnesses, a church led by her son, Apostle Robert T. Shipp. Followers include not only members at the current location, 936 Lebanon Road, but also former members and friends who’ve worshipped under the leadership at previous locations in Missouri and Southern Illinois. 

Rhonda Allen Pickett, age 75, from Peoria, Illinois, said she’s known Mother Bond since she was 18 years old. “She’s helped me, helped me with my children,” said Pickett. Her son, Dr. Michael Pickett, was there from Las Vegas, Nevada. 

“Mother came to her lord and savior Jesus Christ when she was 39 years old and has never left him,” daughter, Era Marshall, reminded the knowing audience. Now that she has lived to be 100 years old, Marshall continued, “I want you to know she is clothed in her right mind and able to praise his name in her own voice.”

Organizers of the 100th birthday celebration for the matriarch hosted it at Cleveland Street Missionary Baptist Church, 608 Cleveland Street, where the pulpit was cleared to make way for a grand stage. Set in the low light of the evening, the platform glowed with tiny LED-lights on the pull-strings of floating, glass-like balloons. Panels of long, flowing purple and gold banners draped the rear of the stage. 

Mother Bonds entered the sanctuary to rousing applause, wearing a white lace dress, a tiara and purple sash. She was accompanied by three girls, in lavender chiffon and ribbons, who rolled out a purple carpet for her entrance, dropping gold flower petals with each step.  

Commendations and proclamations for the Centenarian were read from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Nashville Mayor John Cooper, and Smithsonian Institution of Museums Executive Lonnie Bunch.

The tributes were followed by a lively concert of gospel singers, evangelists, and a quartet, backed by electric guitar-playing musicians. Local favorite Lucious “Spoon Man” Talley wowed the audience with his mesmerizing talent of spoon-tapping rhythms to songs that spoke of human grace. 

Mother Bonds has performed her own brand of gospel vocals to standing ovations of people around the country, said Marshall. She even recorded of one of her favorite songs called, “If You Can’t Help Me, Please Don’t Stop Me”:

(Chorus) If you can’t help me, Please don’t stop me; Move out my way, don’t try to block me; I got a race to run, and I’m running by faith; At the finishing line, I’ll see God’s face.

Bonds performed that song, at age 90, on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium in 2013, as part of a “Silver Stars” awards program. 

She has lived in Nashville for more than thirty years. Before settling here, she lived mostly in the Midwest — Michigan, Illinois, and Missouri – but also in West Tennessee (Ripley) for a time.

She was born Feb. 24, 1923 in the rural community of Earle, Arkansas, situated in the Upper Delta Region of the Mississippi River, where she also raised her children. 

Her son, Apostle Shipp, said he and his siblings attended segregated schools, but the community in which they lived was racially mixed. Whites invited Blacks to participate in sports, he said. They even hung out together at the local pool hall.  

The people who came to honor Mother Bonds were also a diverse group. The concert featured Rev. James Humphries and his King James Band. He brought along 30 members of his Gray’s Point Baptist Church, of Joelton.  

“She has always been a proud and industrious woman,” said daughter Marshall of her mother. She has survived and thrived, as a field hand, maid, cook, dietary assistant, seamstress, factory worker and caretaker, she said. The family came up chopping and picking cotton in their hometown, said her son Apostle Shipp.

“A lovely woman who has out-loved and outlived her husbands,” Marshall continued, she raised each of her seven children to be responsible adults. Oldest son (Joe) became a businessman and chef; second oldest (Robert), an Apostle; oldest daughter (Lloyce), a real estate agent; daughter Era, a retired government executive; and the youngest (Joyce), a human resources supervisor. 

Marshall, of Silver Spring, Maryland, organized the glorious 100th birthday affair for her mother. Goddaughter Dr. Lona Bibbs, of Chicago, spoke of her years of endearment and respect for Bonds, serving as Mistress of Ceremonies.  

Twin sisters Delores and Denise Griggs, who are first cousins of Mother Bonds, flew in from Sacramento, CA. Others with close ties to the matriarch made their way here from Newport News, Virginia, and sections of Florida.