Wendell Brooks: Educator, singer, citizen of the world

Wendell Brooks, who taught at Berkeley High School, died on August 3. Photo: courtesy Wide Awake Minds

Wendell Houston Brooks: May 24, 1940 – August 3, 2012

Wendell Brooks died peacefully at home on August 3, 2012. He was a consummate singer, lifelong educator, and a citizen of the world. His wonderful smile and non-stop energetic personality brought great joy to all who knew him.

Wendell was born in a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas to Julius Blaine Brooks and Golden Mitchem Brooks, spent his childhood in Omaha, Nebraska, moved to Sacramento at the age of 12, and graduated from C.K. McClatchy High School.

After graduation from Whittier College, Wendell served in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, lived in Europe, earning his Master’s Degree from Uppsala University in Sweden, and returned to the United States in 1971. For the rest of his life he taught primarily at California State University East Bay, Berkeley High School, and Holy Names University.

Wendell was an avid follower of politics, and his wide-ranging interests, including sociology, history, music, religion, and African American studies, made him an outstanding and inspiring educator.

Wendell’s commanding bass-baritone voice was unforgettable. He performed widely in Europe and the United States in both classical and folk music, and as a proponent of African American slave songs and spirituals.

Wendell was bass soloist at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church for 40 years, and Master of Song for the California Revels from 2000-2011.

He is survived by his wife Cheryl Keller Brooks, his children Malena and Julian Brooks, his stepdaughter Samantha Keller, his grandchildren Celina Murrington, Nicholas and Christopher Tonna, Naomi, Jason, and Zachariah Brooks, his great-grandchild Arianna Walters, sister Eugenia Murchison, brothers Walter Brooks and Mujehad Abdel-Qadir (Julius Brooks Jr), and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins.

A memorial service will be held August 25, 2pm, at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, 2875 Claremont Blvd., Berkeley. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Episcopal Charities or California Revels.

This obituary was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 19.

Berkeleyside is always honored to publish, at no cost, obituaries of members of the Berkeley community. Please email text and photo(s) to tips@berkeleyside.com

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  • Meliflaw

    My daughter, a BHS graduate and California Revels fan, is going to be very sad. Apart from his musical gifts, Mr. Brooks was such a fine leader. He inspired without bullying or schmaltz, and he led by example. Bless Master Brooks with happiness beside.

  • Emily

    I remember Mr. Brooks for his smile, his laughter and his beautiful voice.  BHS and the Revels have lost a one of a kind guy.  We’ll miss you Mr. Brooks.

  • Owen

    My sociology teacher at BHS. I will always remember one lesson in particular, that there is no utopia. I’ll spare you the details, but it stuck with me. He was loud, charming, and always interesting. This really saddens me to hear because I kept meaning to get in touch with him. 

  • Skleeberk

     . . . I kept meaning to get I touch with him . . .
    sent me directly to my note-card stash to write to two elder friends.
    Thank you, Owen.

  • Diana Rossi

    Yes, “Master Brooks” had such an inspiring  presence at the Revels. He will be greatly missed.
    Thank you, Wendell.

  • Aperson

    I heard him perform many times at private parties; his voice was incredible, filling the room, the house, bursting the windows and filling the world. Vocally, he was a cross between Richie Havens and James Earl Jones. It was a privilege to be in his presence.

    He also had a welcoming, gregarious personality and never seemed to get sad or angry. I don’t know if he mellowed in recent years, but in previous decades his politics were pretty radical even by Berkeley standards; yet even so, unlike many Berkeley types he never bullied or badgered, never got cross, and was content to agree to disagree or simply change the subject to something everyone was happy about. If every radical was as pleasant and reasonable as him, the world would be such a nicer place!

    RIP to a beloved man who only left good memories in his wake.

  • Gretchen L

    I’ve been singing as my profession for the last 15 years, and it was Mr. Brooks that help set me on that path….it was with his guidance in his concert chorale class at BHS that I became a singer. I’ve never forgotten him, and I never will.

  • Bekka Fink

    Dear Brooks Family and Community:

    My name is Bekka (Becki, back in the day) Fink.  I knew and adored Mr. Brooks in many musical and personal capacities (Concert Chorale at BHS among others), and was in school with Julian.  I adored his rich booming voice, his deep kindness, and his supportive and loving ndividual style.  I just now learned of his passing, and I am so sorry I missed celebrating, honoring, and grieving him at the service with his family and community.  Please let me know of any other rituals honoring him.  I would love to be present.  

    Sending blessings of healing and love to you all!

    Best, Bekka Fink 

  • Misflapmaster

    Thank you so much!
    Malena Brooks

  • Malena Brooks

    Thank you to everyone who has posted comments. I enjoyed reading!
    Malena Brooks

  • Erica Edwards

    At BHS, Mr. Brooks and I used to sit around and talk
    about the real issues in life, like why certain brands of vanilla ice
    cream are exquisite. As my classical guitar
    teacher, he knew I was too shy to play in front of him, so he would
    hide behind corners to listen to me before offering advice. As my
    history teacher, he once chastised me for being late, and then upon
    hearing that I’d been giving blood chastised the rest of the class for
    not doing so with me. He always treated me with friendship, respect and
    humor, and I adored him.

  • Aleks Vujovic

    I cannot believe I had not found out earlier than end of 2016, although I had googled Wendell on a number of ocassions over the past few years.

    I had Mr. Brooks for History. I think back to my classes with him often and always fondly. He taught me the difference between fact and opinion. That opinion mows the land. That on an opinion, this continent was stolen from its people, then more people were dragged in.
    I’m very sad that I won’t be able to shake hands with him and talk anymore, but the memory of him, his convictions and what and how he taught will never go.

    Rest in Peace. I continue to look up to you.