June 28, 2022

Breath of Life Founder Walter E. Arties Dies at 80

Renowned soloist, recording artist, and media producer sang at Billy Graham rallies.

Adventist Review Staff

Walter Eugene Arties III, a Seventh-day Adventist singer and pastor known as the founder of Breath of Life Television Ministries, died after an illness, on June 26, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona, United States. He was born on November 12, 1941 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and at his passing was 80.

Arties showed a talent for music from when he was very young, singing at various Adventist evangelistic meetings and colleges campuses across the United States. In 1972, Arties was sent by a booking agency to sing at a banquet for Campus Crusade for Christ, where the main speaker was Billy Graham. Eventually, he was invited to sing at Graham’s crusades in Sweden and Finland. “I did several of those, and then got involved in the associate evangelist program,” Arties told former Adventist Review news editor Mark Kellner several years ago.

In 1974, Arties was instrumental in the founding of Breath of Life Television Ministries in Newbury Park, California. The ministry was aimed at an African American audience, then estimated as the most populous U.S. minority of 25 million. According to Arties, the move was the direct result of “prayer, fasting, counseling with church leaders, and divine intervention.”

Maurice Valentine, recently elected as a General Conference vice president, reflected on the Breath of Life ministry’s contribution. “Through the decades, [Breath of Life] has been a great blessing to people of all backgrounds,” he wrote in comments to the North American Division Office of Communication. “For people of color, it was revolutionary in many ways…. It came into existence at a time when there were few TV shows depicting persons of color.”

At the time, church publications reported that Arties’s brainchild idea took some time to catch on. The cost seemed overwhelming at the time. Eventually, the General Conference voted to support the initiative, which was announced as a telecast to “carry the everlasting gospel in the format of traditional preaching accompanied by stirring hymns.” Arties also sang at numerous evangelistic meetings in the Caribbean, India, and other countries.

Arties was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1982, during the annual Black convocation of the Southern California Conference. C. D. Brooks, then field secretary of the General Conference and speaker/director for Breath of Life, preached at the ceremony.

By then, Arties had been involved in public evangelism and outreach ministry. He was widely known as vocal soloist, choir director, and music arranger. He had also released several albums through Chapel Records, including Gentle Exhortations, which won the 1982-1983 Religion in Media Award.

In an interview in 1986, Arties said that Breath of Life was “a combination of a television outreach ministry and personal contact with the people in a given city.” According to Arties, “Breath of Life churches” were raised in several of the places where the ministry conducted evangelistic meetings. 

Arties retired in 2005. At his retirement party, he received a plaque “in grateful appreciation” for his “outstanding leadership at the Adventist Media Center and the Voice of Prophecy,” and his “untiring commitment to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.” At that time, Arties was commended for his “outstanding musical contribution,” described as enriching and a blessing.

Connie Vandeman Jeffery, an old friend of the family who worked with Arties at the Adventist Media Center for 10 years, recalled his impact on her personal and professional life and lamented his death. “He was with us too brief a time, but he is not gone. He lives on through his music, his witness, and his love for Jesus,” Jeffery said.

Alvin Kibble, retired North American Division vice president, also reacted to Arties’s death. “Today I mourn the loss of another friend, Pastor Walter Arties, a fellow minister, renowned soloist, and the founder of the Breath of Life Television Ministries,” Kibble said. “As a fellow pastor, long-time friend, and former chairman of the Breath of Life Executive Committee, I extend my sincere and heart-felt condolences and prayers to his wife, Beverly, and to the Breath of Life family. Walter was dearly loved throughout the North American Division and around the world.  He was a true visionary and an inspiration to us all.”

Valentine also reflected on Arties’s contribution as a singer and church minister. “Globally enjoyed, his stratospheric tenor voice was revolutionary because he had a range which we came to accept was not falsetto, but conversely, he could in fact, easily and comfortably reach high notes and sustain them with unbelievable control that religious musical artists have adopted to this very day,” Valentine wrote. “But his best attribute was not what he did for his church, but how he reflected the humble character of Christ to the world.”

He shared how 45 years ago, Valentine noticed that Arties was willing to pull up a chair and sing in the camp meeting choir. “Despite being an Adventist musical artist extraordinaire, as his name implies, nothing was too lowly for Elder Arties to do for his Master and Savior,” Valentine wrote. “Our hearts go out to his wife, Beverly, and the extended Arties family and, yes, the world church as we grieve the loss of this giant of faith in Jesus.”