Saturday, June 02, 2012

Classic Gospel

It may just be a Southern thing, on second thought, I'm sure it's just a Southern thing...

Often when I float through the channels on television on Saturday afternoons, I come across what are called "Classic Gospel" shows. An hour of people with big hair, mullets, small afros, oversized jewelry, and expanded waistlines singing those old hymns of the church. Black men and women sprinkled between the white folks singing every verse of Rock of Ages, God Will Take Care of You, Through It All, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, and even the Doxology. Who knew that there were verses to The Doxology?

I wonder how many late-night meetings there were and how much blood had to be shed before black and white singers were permitted to sing together here in the South. Based on the perceived age of the singers, I know that there were many years when these people sang and praised in separate and unequal churches, when they sang in separate and unequal choirs, and when they and their children attended separate and unequal schools. But there they are, singing classic gospel late into the evening.

I watch. I sing along, surprised by how many verses I remember all these years after learning those songs at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY. 

And I think about my dearly beloved, dearly departed Dad.

I think that the only person I know who loved hymns more than I do was my father. Back in the days of eight-track tapes, my father created tapes of hymns that he listened to over and over. There was one song, a contemporary hymn/worship song back in the 1970s sung by Dallas Holm called, "Rise Again" that my father absolutely adored. He loved it so much that he copied it onto one tape at least five times in a row. He listened to that one song hundreds of times in his life - which was quite a feat back before anyone had even heard of a Walkman, an iPod or a playlist. (FYI: the visual part of the video is taken from a movie of the life of Christ, but the accompanying music is the Dallas Holm song. We played the song at my father's funeral.)

I feel the same way about To God Be the Glory, especially Tommy Walker's version of it. I am grateful for my two exceedingly patient children who will tell you that they have allowed me to that song over and over in the minivan. I am thrilled to say that my children, even though they fill their playlists with Adele and John Mayer and usually bring their earphones into the minivan with them, will sing along with me far more than I deserve when I play my favorite hymns and they know all the verses by heart. My father's love for the old songs of the church lives on in them as well.

I used to stand next to my father at church and simply listen to him sing. Sometimes I would stop singing so I could listen closely to the joy and strength in his voice and in his faith as he sang those words he knew so well and believed so deeply. Songs like, "Great is thy faithfulness," "It is Well with My Soul," "How Great Thou Art," and "Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus" still make me cry when I sing them because they remind me so much of my father and his rock-solid faith in the God we both love and worship.

I wish my Dad could ride in the van and sing with me. I think we would make good harmony together, his tenor voice with my alto voice. I wish he could hear my children sing. I wish he could have heard the series I taught recently on the history of some of our favorite hymns. But now that I think about it, I think he's with me all the time, singing, listening, holding me close.

And someday we will stand and sing together again, his voice and mine blending together.
His wide open arms pulling me close as we sing. His bright smile lighting up the sanctuary.
Oh, that will be glory for me.

Until I get the chance to sing with him again, When The Roll is Called Up Yonder,
I will sing along with the Classic Gospel productions on local access television.

Yea, when I look at this show, when I listen to Bill Gaither narrate each episode, when I look at their hair, I know that I'm right about one thing - it's definitely a Southern thing.

I do miss my Daddy.


Lisa said...

A beautiful post, my dear friend. How special to have these wonderful, music-filled memories. We were SO blessed to have such Godly, loving fathers with whom to share sacred connections through song.

"Cuz I'll rise again. Ain't no power on Earth can keep me down!"

GailNHB said...

Thanks, Lisa, for reminding me that we share this as well - great Dads who loved to sing.

I used to love watching my father as he listened to that song and sang it with all the gusto he could muster.

We played that song at his funeral. Needless to say, many tears were shed by yours truly. Many, many tears.

Tricia said...

Wow, what a handsome couple. And family. I share your love of classic gospel and don't have a southern cell in my body. The Statler Brothers once sang How Great Thou Art
under a tent at the Ohio State Fair. Phil Donahue was taping a show with them. It was breathtaking. Even Phil was overwhelmed, making some statement like feeling he had already gone to heaven.