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Earliest memories of church songs?

DSCN0834For those of you who grew up around singing, what are the earliest memories of hymns and spiritual songs?  We can’t help but laugh at the way children hear songs like “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me,” and “Gladly the cross-eyed bear.”  I remember hearing my Dad and Grandfather leading songs in the small, one-room, country church house near Dover, Tennessee.  How about you?  Was there singing in your home?  On vacations?  What are the first songs you remember?

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41 Comments for “Earliest memories of church songs?”

  1. There is a place in my memory from singing “This Little Light of Mine” in a Sunday School class. It was one of those times where they turned off the lights and had a candle in the center of the room to illustrate the point. I think the candle is the image that was in my head, and of course, the song goes with it…

    After that, I remember my dad leading worship on Sunday mornings when I was little. I think he lead “Why Did My Savior Come To Earth” several weeks in a row, because I remember asking him to lead something else. Now “Why Did My Savior Come To Earth” is one of my favorite Lord’s Supper songs.

  2. Keith, I remember leading singing, as a boy, at the Coopertown Church of Christ in TN. on a Wednesday night worship.

  3. “I Want to be a Worker” and “The Lord Is My Shepherd” are two of the earliest ones I remember; I was 4 or 5 at the time in SE Missouri.

  4. Kyle, you were giving your opinion at a pretty early age, weren’t you? Songleaders have a tough time pleasing everyone! Mike – I think it’s a wonderful idea to train our young boys how to lead singing. I remember being quite nervous about it myself. Karen, those are two that I remember from way back as well.

  5. I remember asking my dad to lead the song, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand.” Ever time he got the opportunity to lead singing! Because, well it was “my” song. (It has my name in it.)

  6. This may be a little esoteric, but maybe one or two people might know of this first song. My elementary school years were spent at a very small church in northwest Alabama, the Wolf Springs Church of Christ. It was a small congregation, but they certainly could sing. We used the old Sacred Selections songbook with the doctrinally correct lyrics. One song in particular stands out from the singing nights there — “On the Jericho Road.” I haven’t seen one of those books in years, but I could still spit out most of the lyrics.

    As you travel along, on the Jericho road
    Does the world seem all wrong, and heavy your load
    Just bring it to Christ, your sins all confess
    On the Jericho road, your heart He will bless

    On the Jericho road, there’s room for just two
    No more and no less, just Jesus and you
    Each burden He’ll bear, each sorrow He’ll share
    There’s never a care, for Jesus is there

    And every singing night would start with all the young boys getting up to lead a song of their choosing. Of course most of the boys just got up and called out a number and waited on one of the men in the front row to start it for them. Not me, I got mad; I wanted to lead it myself!

    Then there were the times we visited the Hatton church (where my family later moved to, where I spent my teenage years, where I call home) which was big (actually HUGE in country terms, one of the few country spots where the CoC is bigger than the Baptist church) so the singing was even bigger there. And they could sing, “The New Song” so well. I hoped they would sing that every time I visited there.

    • Yes, I remember “On The Jericho Road,” more as a special song and not congregational though. The New Song was always a little complicated, especially if the tenors didn’t take the lead when they were supposed to.

      • “On The Jericho Road” was a standard where I grew up and that was in Pico Rivera, CA. So was “The New Song”. We were a singing congregation and my singing family. My Granddad and Daddy lead most of the singing and had no problem “pulling a new one” on a Sunday morning. I remember them going over the words with the congregation first so the meaning of the song was understood. We would all read it out load and by the end of the first stanza of the second verse some would be adding the parts. Learning songs to praise God was a major part of our worship.
        When either side of my family got together, we use “The Super Specials” to sing from as well as hymnals. Our favorite hymn to finish the night of singing we “The Glory Special” the last song in the book. Michael and I still have those books and our family sings from them now. Wow, what a wonderful memory!!
        Thanks for bringing back so many more memories that lighten my day.

  7. I remember always singing on road trips. We would get so into the hymns, we missed our exits many times! In church I remember starting with the blue books, then going to the gold books (We really felt we were keeping up when we received these books) and then finally the burgundy books! I have kept all the old song books and still go back to the blue book (original) for certain songs. I still have every color including the green books! So many great memories. My dad is in the nursing home now in another state, and when we are all together, we go and sing to him. He seems to really appreciate it.

  8. What great memories, Terri. I love it – that you missed the highway exit because you were so involved in the singing! You know how people get used to their own personal Bible and they remember that a particular passage is on the left page near the top (for example) . . . sounds like the familiarity you have with the hymnals.

  9. My memories go back to the Joy Bus I rode to church. I think back on songs like Do Lord, O how I love Jesus and walking down Heavens Road.I also remember sitting in Worship service with my grandmother and her teaching me how to follow along in the song book.

    • Bryan,
      “Who’s that walking down the road, carrying such a heavy load?”

    • That is so awesome. We had a “Joy Bus” in Bozeman, MT. I remember singing the same songs. Now my teens are singing those same timeless songs. Thanks for taking me down memory lane.

  10. I don’t remember not singing. My dad lead singing as a substitute leader in Memphis and I remember him leading Trust and Obey. When my mom was in the hospital having my younger brother, we recorded a tape for her and I sang Low in the Grave. My entire family sings. I love the songs that separate the parts so that you can hear all the different parts. Miss you at Madison, but love keeping up with you!

  11. I grew up in the church. My dad went to what was Sunset School of Preaching in Lubbock. So, singing was always part of my childhood. From Jesus Loves Me to I’ve Been Redeemed to my favorite hymn in the song book, 728B, Our God is Alive. Whenever we had singing night, in Bowie, TX, on the last Wednesday of the month I would always request that song. Nothing like singing that song with thousands of people at the Tulsa Workshop. I only hear that song once a year now because no one sings it anymore. Great memories.

    • Shonda,
      I’m leading the worship on the opening night of the Tulsa workshop this year (which is on Wednesday night at the Fairgrounds pavilion – – it’s the first year they’ve had Wednesday night at the Fairgrounds.) I hope a lot of churches in the Tulsa area will join us for a great time of singing before the message which has “Redeemed” in the title – so we’ll be singing that song.

  12. Karen Stevens Altom


    Growing up in the Stevens clan, singing was just a given! Any large family gathering in included a few hours of singing hymns. Any car trip with my dad (Lanier) included singing and that’s when we all practiced our four part harmony. Traveling alone with him was when he taught me songs with an alto lead like “He’ll Pilot Me.” I love so many of the old hymns and each one evokes a special memory when heard. I remember being a little afraid of “The All-Seeing Eye!” I also remember a certain time when Daddy took on the responsibility of getting the teenagers out of bed each morning…for a few years he made me hate hearing “Send the Light” since he would sing it each morning as he flipped the lights on and off in my room! Now it makes me smile. Thanks Daddy and thanks Keith for the opportunity to share!

    • Thanks for sharing, Karen. Lanier has brought many smiles to me! Didn’t he teach Sissy Spacek guitar lessons? It’s always a treat to hear the Sounds Of Glory too. “Send the light . . .”

  13. This is going to make me sound like a total fanboy, but some of the earliest songs I remember hearing and singing were from your early recordings, Keith. “He’s Still Working On Me” was my favorite to sing as a child. “There’s Water In The Plan”, “A Very Special Time”, and “Soon And Very Soon” were absolute favorites to have in the tape player.

    And there was lots of good hymns and church songs too, but my parents did a great job of keeping great a cappella music in my ears!

  14. Now you’re going way back. Wow. The arrangements have come a long way since then!

  15. My mom has always gone around our house singing hymns, and she has an absolutely, amazingly beautiful soprano voice. It used to drive me nuts when I was younger when she would sing in the mornings, but now I absolutely LOVE it when I am home. Trust and Obey and How Great Thou Art are some of the first ones I remember. I think my favorites now are Victory in Jesus and I’ll Fly Away.

    Of course, with our national anthem, lol, 728B-that was the very first song I looked up when we switched to the Songs of Faith & Praise book way back when…23 just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as 728B 😉

    Now living in China, it is neat to hear some of the songs like Amazing Grace (which they LOVE!), How Great Thou Art, Lily of The Valley, etc sung in Chinese while also learning new Chinese church songs…but there is nothing like hearing it and being able to sing in your native tongue! I am thankful for both, and have to admit I often miss singing in English. It is incredibly powerful!! :)

  16. Our family always sang; I think you know my cousin Robert Orr. My earliest memories of singing in church were when my Dad was preaching for a Black congregation in Arkansas. I clearly remember “When They Ring Those Golden Bells,” and “What a Fellowship”. I also remember singing about a fellow named “Drawme Nearer.”

  17. “Hear the sweet voice of Jesus say, ‘Come unto me, I am the way’ terrible thought to cry, ‘too late’, Jesus I come to thee. Only a step, only a step. Come for He bled for you and died. He’s the same loving savior yet, Jesus the crucified”.

    First song I remember my grandfather leading in worship when i was just a boy…love to lead it to this day.

  18. This Little Light of Mine at Sunday School at the closed Linwood Church of Christ in Fort Worth

  19. I am just 18 but have been singing all my life. I love to lead singing whenever I can, and try to teach some newer songs but since our church is smaller it is hard for people to learn new ones. We have the same book with 728B, it is also sung here a lot! My favorite song is probably the alternate version of shelter in the time of storm, I am not even sure if there is any sheet music for the way I know it, since I learned it at bible camp. If anyone is near shelbyville TN come by central church of christ, we are just a big family anyway!

  20. I recall in 1979 singing a song with the lyrics, “thou art the potter, I am the clay” and what was funny about that was my friends name was Clay… While singing the song together, we would just look at each other with that knowing glance and smile… :)

  21. I grew up at Garnett in Tulsa and for some reason I remember a Sunday when Jerome Williams led “Everybody Will be Happy Over There.” It seemed like we sang the chorus 10 times, then Marvin got up to preach, and started singing the chorus, so Jerome got back up and we sang it 10 more times. I also remember when worship began (especially when Booker Murphy was leading) everyone would just stand up, no one had to be told it just happened.

  22. I remember my dad teaching my Sunday school when I was very little and he was teaching us “The wise man built his house upon the Rock”. But also, as he was a song leader, if any of us in our family had had an argument or fight (as siblings do!) he would often slip into his song leading Sunday morning the song “Angry Words”. We go the message!

  23. I remember my aunts, uncles, grand parents and parents lifting me up to the table so i could be as tall as them. One song i still remember was “look away from the cross to the stary crown” I would sing the part I knew the the best as loug as I could “LOOK AWAY”

  24. i grew up in southwestern oklahoma; small country churches sang songs with alto leads; which i figured out was my voice range. on the jerico road ; the new song; paradise valley; happy am i; those were some favorites, i’ll fly away. my girls and i would sing on car trips. when my mother was dying in the nursing home several years ago, we sang paradise valley in 3 parts. the nurses couldnt believe we sang without music or books! alas, my son is tone deaf, but he still sings anyway! must be harder for boys as their voices change. how can the church help those changing voices find their ‘spot’???

    • Sounds like some very precious memories, Judy! Sounds like you and your family are naturals.
      As far as helping people, I like to make it fun and have the entire church sit in sections. We make it easy for people to change sections and try other parts until they feel comfortable.

  25. Keith….my first memory of you and Acapella was in early 80s and y’all visited our church in Montgomery, Alabama (Lakewood CofC – no longer there – we merged with another congregation and is now called Vaughn Park CofC…….anyway, I say all this because when you were visiting y’all sang the cutest song which I think was called “Excuses” and I have searched and searched for a copy of this song…….is it available anywhere??? I would LOVE to fine a copy………Thanks!!

  26. My earliest memories are actually of Keith’s music… I cannot remember not knowing those Acappella songs. I remember the music playing in my home before I remember much of anything else. Sometimes hearing the music & Keith’s voice makes me cry (good tears!) of homesickness and just missing being a little kid. I listen to the following generation of Keith’s Acappella groups now and still love them–have even been to a couple concerts–and know the words by heart. There are even some passages of Scripture that I can’t say; I have to sing them, because of some songs! (Acts 2, John 10, etc.) Keith, your music will forever be part of the soundtrack of my life. Thank you for using your talents for God’s glory & the edification of others.

  27. Hi, Keith. You are asking something different in your blog, but let me participate with a question, which is very different from the topic you are talking about. I am a choir conductor in a christian church in Mexico, and I have been looking for the songbooks of Praise and Harmony projects, but I have not seen any of the online music stores selling these songbooks (with SATB music scores), or having the option to sell them in Mexico. Do you have any way of selling them, and send them to Mexico. I`m in love with the arrengements the Lord has inspired you, and I would like to translate them into Spanish and teach them to the choir. I think they are great to start teaching, or at least leading the church in new and more excellent ways of worship. I was taught in a traditional church, and I am not against the new forms of worship, but I think many people have forgotten and some have not had the opportunity to learn much of the good music we had in our times (I’m 54 now!!!). It’s not just for the sake of music, but I think the new generations need to get a taste for well done music in order to offer our God, no matter what kind of music we use, a more excellent worship each day. And those songbooks can be the key tool to achieve this. I will be happy if you let me know if there is a way to obtain those musical treasures to teach Trigo y Miel (Wheat & Honey. That’s the name of the church here in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico) singers, choral arrangements to contemporary christian music.

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