Tragic ending for a song of faith

Regular GetReligion readers know all about our M.O. on this blog. Our goal is to pick away at the errors that regularly mar mainstream coverage of religion news, while paying special attention to stories that are haunted by "ghosts," which we define as major religious issues or themes in stories that journalists have missed or mangled (or both).

Much of this work is negative in nature, but not all.

If we really want to have a quiet day on the blog, a day in which there are no long streams of comments through which we must wade, all we have to do is praise a story in the mainstream press. Of course, we can also induce total silence by writing about international news, especially if it concerns coverage of oppressed religious minorities. But that's another sad issue.

Nevertheless, the Washington Post ran a tragic feature story the other day -- in the Style section, no less -- that contained a major thread of religious content and, as best I can tell, the team that produced it did a more than adequate job at this point in the story.

You see, this is a genuinely tragic murder mystery. That's the heart of story. Here's the top:

The final play of the opera singer was "Hamlet," the Shakespearean meditation on murder and ghosts and madness, at the Washington National Opera in the early summer. His own slaying, a few days later in or near Fort Dupont Park, apparently played out to an audience of one, that of his killer. His funeral, in Prince George's County, drew more than 1,000 mourners, who wept for the loss of his Pavarotti-size persona, his booming laugh, his oh-so-sweet tenor.

The facts taken from the last weeks of the life of Don Diego Jones, a 14-year veteran of the chorus at the Washington Opera, married man and a proud new parent, make for the stuff of tragedy, as if lifted from the librettos of the classical operas he loved. But, as has become clear in the two months since he died, the last hours of his life play out more like a violent crime mystery that, so far, cannot be solved.

On the last-known morning of his life, June 7, a Monday, the 43-year-old, 280-pound Jones called his mother to say good morning. He then called in sick to his day job as a social worker with special-needs children for the state of Maryland -- a minor toothache, he told his wife, Charita. He kissed her as she left for work, dropped off their infant foster children at the babysitter's and returned to his townhouse in Temple Hills around 8:30 a.m.

Soon after that Jones vanished.

Police reports -- containing some strange inconsistencies -- said he had been shot several times. His body was found in Fort Dupont Park, a location that members of his family insist that he had no known history of frequenting. The Post states the obvious, especially when dealing with such a large, colorful, almost mythic figure:

When men are killed in public parks, there is an almost automatic suspicion that drugs or sex is involved, but Charita Jones said her husband did not drink, smoke or do drugs. Court records show he had no arrest history. In 10 years of marriage, and in the two months since his death, she says, neither she nor his family has uncovered anything to suggest he was leading a double life.

So where does religion fit into this story? For starters, the deceased's mother is a minister, the Rev. Doretha F. Best, and it is rarely unusual to find out that an African-American who is a talented singer discovered his or her gift in church. It is clear that Jones linked his music with faith.

Thus, we read:

The two youngest brothers played football for a while for youth leagues, but Don wasn't much for being a jock. ... He excelled at singing, both gospel and classical. He attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts, his mother says, graduated from McKinley High and later, Howard University. His day job for several years was as a musical therapist at St. Elizabeths, the mental hospital in Southeast Washington.

He went to a succession of churches -- 10th Street Baptist, 19th Street Baptist -- singing in the choir and, as a side business, performing at weddings, funerals and in Christmas musicals. Later, when Best started preaching and opened her own small church, the Tabernacle Full Gospel Church in Temple Hills, he joined and became a youth pastor.

A dozen years ago, he met his future wife at a choir rehearsal. Charita was an alto and, she says, "in awe of his voice." She liked how well he dressed, how attentive he was to her. "He was very romantic. A flowers-and-roses guy. Very dignified."

He proposed on a Friday, on her mother's front porch. That Sunday morning, he presented her with everything she was to wear for church that day.

Their lives centered on music and church. There were hints that, with his giant talent, Jones might be able to soar to another level.

His vocal talents, everyone agrees, were extraordinary, both in their range and versatility. He sang "The 23rd Psalm" at the funeral of Coretta Scott King, accompanied by gospel artist Jeff Majors on the harp. Charita remembers that when Majors called to ask Don to perform at the ceremony, which included performers such as Stevie Wonder and BeBe Winans, he hung up and said, "I just can't breathe, Charita! I just can't breathe!" When he and Majors reprised their performance on "Oprah," she says, he called from backstage just before he went on, to tell her that he thought he might faint from excitement.

And that's that. The story goes on and the mystery gets larger and deeper.

Does the faith element need to be played higher in the story? I could see how that would help, but the factual material fits where it fits in this long story. Should there be more religious content? At this point in the mystery, how would anyone know?

It's a painful story to read, with the song of a man's life being cut off far before what all of his loved ones thought would be a glorious final chorus. His song included his faith. At the very least, this story lets readers know that.

That's a start. That's all that can be done at this point.

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