West Michigan Singer Leaves Musical Legacy

Written by Terry DeBoer on . Posted in Local

Sterk Bill largerBill Sterk Both fans and friends are mourning the loss of William "Bill" Sterk, singer and co-founder of the area gospel group The Heralders. Sterk passed away on April 5. He was 82.

They are recalling his clear bass voice that was as deep as he was tall.

Dete Tilma of Byron Center sang tenor with The Heralders for 14 years. He had a long relationship with Sterk both as a colleague and a friend.

"Bill always made us relaxed on stage," recalled Tilma, 68. "When I would play an intro to a song and he wasn't quite ready to come in, he would say 'O Dete, that's so pretty....why don't you play that again?'"

Sterk, whose physical frame rose to more than 6 and a half feet, was an owner of Able Sanitation for more than 50 years. But his heart overflowed with music.


Bill and lead singer Ted Conrad co-founded The Heralders back in the 1960s. In their early days the group performed up to 40 weekends per year and had a converted Greyhound bus for their concert travels. They recorded more than a dozen albums, including at least one compilation CD of their popular songs.

Although mostly performing in churches, The Heralders also graced the stages on concert bills at famed Grand Rapids spots such as the old Welsh Auditorium and DeVos Performance Hall.

Conrad had several health problems during his later years and finally retired from the group in 2005. He passed away seven years ago.
The Heralders continued with a revamped line-up until 2016 when Sterk sang his last quartet note.


It was around 1980 when the Heralders original tenor left the group. That's when Sterk asked Tilma if he would consider singing with them.

"I remember going to his house one night, just to see if we would get along musically," Tilma said. "Bill told me, 'Don't worry about it.' And it was an instant fit."

Both had been inspired in their younger days by Southern gospel quartets such as The Rebels and The Blackwoods which flavored The Heralders' own music and stage presence.

Not everyone knew that Bill was born in The Netherlands. His family moved to the U.S. during his school days. Although his spoken English didn't have a prominent Dutch accident, Tilma said it occasionally revealed itself in his singing.

"One of the songs Bill is remembered for was 'His Eye Is On The Sparrow,'" said Tilma of the hymn which titled one of the group's albums.

"On the chorus he would sing that low bass in a kind of Southern gospel Dutch brogue," he smiled.

In many quartets the bass singer gets only an occasional solo. But "Billy" got his share and more.

Another of their songs – "Go Jonah," a parody of the Oak Ridge Boys' 1981 hit "Elvira" – also featured Sterk's prominent bass vocals and struck a chord with fans.

His lower register was featured on the second verse of another of their favorites, "God Will Take Care of You."

"I think we'll be singing that one at the memorial service," offered Tilma, who is also working on a medley of Heralders songs to perform.
One comment on Sterk's online obituary summed it up. "Loved his deep voice with the Heralders....I can just see Bill singing with Ted (Conrad) now," posted Lyn Roelofs, who knew both of the singers.

In a 1994 interview, Bill recalled his first ever onstage quartet experience.

"There was a quartet sing at Unity Christian High School and the bass singer of one of the groups couldn't make it. They asked me to fill in.

"I've been filling in ever since," he quipped.

Sterk is survived by his wife Marlene, children Renee Harp and Bill, Jim and Ted Sterk, 13 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Visitation is set for 3 – 4:45pm Thur. May 6 at Heritage Christian Reformed Church, 3089 84th St SW Byron Center. A memorial service follows at 5pm. Memorial contributions may be made to Byron Center Christian Schools, Moline Christian Schools, and South Christian High School.
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Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Author: Terry DeBoer
Terry is a journalist/feature writer for newspapers, magazines and websites, with a background in radio broadcasting. His usual beat is arts and entertainment, specializing in Christian/gospel music. A married father of two, he is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan Contributing Writer: West Michigan Christian News August 2011 – Present Feature writer: -Mlive.com (website and various newspapers) 1988– 2016 -Spotlight New Christian Music Magazine 1997-2008 -Church News Editor, Church Herald Magazine 2004-2009

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