Sunday, November 30, 2008

When All of God's Singers Get Home - Luther G. Presley

If I said someone named ‘Presley’ was a notable 20th Century songwriter born in the South, you most probably would guess that I was referring to Elvis Presley. Well, Elvis might be nicknamed ‘the King’, but if you interviewed residents of Faulkner and White Counties in Arkansas, they might guess that Luther G. Presley was in fact a more prolific composer than his namesake from Memphis, Tennessee. By some accounts, Luther (1887-1974) wrote 1,500 or more gospel songs, beginning officially in 1907 when his first song was published. He had in fact written his first song “Gladly Sing” some years earlier when he was just 17 years old, a few years after he had started attending music school and directing the choir at the Free Will Baptist Church near Rose Bud, Arkansas. Perhaps Presley (the lyricist) and Virgil O. Stamps (the music writer, of the Stamps-Baxter music publishing company) are most well known for the 1937 song “When the Saints Go Marching In”, but it would be unfair to limit their accomplishments to that song alone. I for one have sung many Stamps-Baxter productions that I appreciate as much or more than “When the Saints…”, and in a similar way, I also appreciate another of Presley’s songs – “When All of God’s Singers Get Home”.
Written in 1937, in the heart of nationwide deprivation, Presley’s words for “When All of God’s Singers Get Home” are nevertheless ebullient…does happiness, delight, mirth, joy, light, and bright -- all words in this song -- sound like someone singing the blues, like somebody who’s desperate? His life must have been impacted during the Great Depression, but you sense something besides his physical environment was guiding him. One could say that Luther Presley must have been Spirit-led. His music life was abundant, despite whatever his circumstances might have dictated. Frequently, after a difficult time, he’d compose when alone, a mode reminiscent of Jesus who would also escape his surroundings and go to a mountain seeking prayer time with His Father. Presley also wrote by drawing upon real-life experiences, including “I Know the Lord Is With Me” after being in a car accident in which no one was injured, and “Give Them Red Roses (The Boys Will Be Coming Home)” near the end of World War II as he thought about his sons Clarence and Leister who were in uniform in Europe. Leister says his father also drew upon his personal loss - his wife and second child died during childbirth (although what tune or tunes he wrote at this time we do not know). It is said that he always carried paper scraps on which to record his thoughts, perhaps indicating that Luther was prepared for, and counted on, the Lord making random thoughts into something special. (I confess I now feel better about all those Post-It notes I scatter everywhere!)
Yes, Luther Presley had a gift, one so amazingly employed over such a long time…it reminds me of the title of a book, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” (Eugene Peterson). I have tried to sum up Luther Presley’s life, but I think his own words say it more powerfully through the music he wrote. Do you have a favorite Luther G. Presley song, perhaps one that he wrote in collaboration with the Stamps-Baxter company (like “When All of God’s Singers Get Home”, or “When the Saints Go Marching In”)? Share it here, tell us what it means to you, and enrich the rest of us a little more.
* Much of the information gleaned from an April 21, 1998 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article written by Bob Sallee.


Anonymous said...

"I'd rather have Jesus" 1935 by L.G.P.
I attend an old southern baptist style church in Pontiac, Michigan that was founded by Roland A Corr 1934. His favorite song that I know of was:
Id rather have Jesus
than silver or gold
Id rather have Jesus
than riches untold
I'd rather have Jesus
than anything
this ol' world
could afford today
Than to be a king
of a vast domain
or to be held in sin's
dread sway
I'd rather have Jesus
than anything
this ol'world
could afford today.

Anonymous said...

hope you enjoy this rendition. It is not word for word as brother Presley wrote it, but it's how I learned it. Would love to hear from you.

David Cain said...

Thank you Bob for your comment on my blog! I'm sorry I haven't responded to your comment before now, as I haven't figured out a way to notify myself when comments have been made on the blog (or even if there's a way to make that happen). (...I think I just discovered a way!)

I cannot say for certain that I have ever sung "I'd Rather Have Jesus", but now I know the words a little. I looked it up on the internet, and discovered it in some other books I have, and found out something that maybe you didn't know (certainly, I didn't know this). The composer of "I'd Rather Have Jesus" was actually Mrs. Rhea F. Miller, in 1922, and the writer of the music was George Beverly Shea in 1933. Luther Presley must have sung it too, probably in a very memorable way, since you associate him with the song.

Thanks, and God bless

David said...

There actually is a Stamps Baxter "I'd Rather Have Jesus" song (different from the Rhea Miller one) published in 1935.

I personally greatly enjoy "A Friend Like You."

David said...

If you're interested, Sacred Selections for the Church (a shape note hymnal primarily used in Churches of Christ) contains a significant number of Stamps-Baxter songs, more so than any other book used in our brotherhood, I think. There are a handful of Presley songs in that book.
Ellis Crum (the compiler) mutilated many traditional songs because brothers believed some lyrics were not "scriptural," but nearly all of the Stamps-Baxter songs somehow made it through the screening process.
Although Sacred Selections was compiled in the 50s and largeley went out of common use by the 80s, it is still in print. Just google Sacred Selections for the church and you'll get a website where you can order the books for about $8. You can't even get a used one for that price.

Grandpa Leon said...

From Leon -- -- Yes, here are the words to Presley's song of 1935:
I’D RATHER HAVE JESUS As Sang by The Chuck Wagon Gang
W & M by Luther G Presley (1935)

1. Men strive for the wealth of this wide, wicked world.
They seek after honor and fame.
So lavishly sporting their diamonds and pearls,
They put the dear Savior to shame.

Chorus (after each verse)
I rather live in Heaven than to own all earth's silver and gold.
I'd rather have Jesus than the diamonds of a palace to hold.
I'd rather be a beggar and live in a little shack by the road.
Than to own all earth's treasures with no title to a future abode.

2. They seem not to know that their treasures will rust
And thieves often break through and steal.
Contented with pleasure, they follow their lusts,
Though sorrow their destiny seals.

3. What profit is found in earth's silver and gold.
How sad at the close of life's day.
If for the exchange, one must lose his own soul;
From Heaven's Door be turned away.

Wanda Wood said...

My husband is looking for the sheet music for I’D RATHER HAVE JESUS As Sung by The Chuck Wagon Gang and the Gaithers. Would anyone know where he could find it? He is not very good at computers if you could kindly email him that would be great

Leon Estes said...

I have been searching for the 4th verse to "The Bells of Home", which I understand Stamps Baxter later, in 1948, titled "When the Bells of Home Shall Ring For Me" and credited Luther Presley as the author of the song. In 1944, in "Grateful Praise" songbook, Page 00, S-B printed "The Bells of Home" W & M by E.L. Wright.
Possibly Mr. Presley wrote an additional verse, of which I only remember part:

4. Oh, I want to be found ready when to earth He comes again,
, = - = - =
Clothed in shining garments white, = - = - = ;
When the bells of home shall ring for me.

I think it is a beautiful song.

Here are the 1st 3 verses and Refrain:
1. When the Bells of home start ringing, Telling me to come on home;
And the voice of my dear Savior speaks to me;
Oh, I want to be found ready, Robed in shining garments white,
When 'tis time to cross the silent sea.

May my robes be pure and white, From the stains of sin made free;
Ready for the mansions bright, When the bells of Home shall ring for me.

2. Oh, I want to be a Christian, living daily for my Lord,
Always walking in the shining, gospel way;
So when all my work is over, and my journey here is done,
With the Saints in Glory I shall stay.

3. It will be a happy meeting when we gather over there,
No more pain, no death, no sorrow, no more sin;
We will sing and shout the praises of our blessed Lord and King,
And repeat with joy the grand AMEN!