Spotlight On Music In Appalachia 2010

Spotlight On Music In Appalachia – Gospel Music

Smokemont baptist church swain county nc

When I first started my Spotlight on Music in Appalachia-I knew gospel music should be part of it. For weeks I’ve tried to wrap my mind around the importance gospel music has played-and continues to play in Appalachia. It’s like something I feel deep inside but once I try to put my feelings to words-they fall flat. Either sounding like a crazed religious fanatic or like I’m belittling the very people I’m one of.

I’m not really talking about it in monetary terms or even about successful performers-although a huge majority of country and bluegrass stars got their start singing in church. I’m thinking more about how it relates to people’s everyday lives. I can only speak from personal experiences-but I feel strongly that my thoughts about the relationship that exists between faith, gospel music, and Appalachia would be shared by most who have grown up attending a church in Appalachia.

I’m a snob when it comes to modern praise music. I just can’t seem to lay aside the old hymns nor any of the songs of faith that I grew up with for the rocking praise anthems of today. I realize the words are what matter-but somehow the songs cannot move me the way the old ones do. A local pastor once reminded me, in the past, Hymns were thought to be too modern for the church too.

My first exposure to music as a child-even as a babe still in Granny’s arms-was to gospel music. It seems The Louvin Brother’s songs were the background music to my childhood. Sad warning songs like-Praying, The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea, Satan Is Real, The Great Atomic Power and happier ones like-Love Thy Neighbor, The River of Jordan (my favorite!), and Born Again were often heard around Granny and Pap’s.

Even as a young child-I remember being astounded at the power of songs of faith. There’s a palatable feeling that occurs when folks gather to lift their voice in worship-and if you’ve never felt it-I suggest you slip in the door of one of those little old churches scattered through out the Appalachian Mountains-sit down on the back row as the choir sings and see if you don’t feel it too.

My friend, Sharon, and I shared a special bond when we were kids. We were in the same classroom at school-and we went to the same church. We both liked the singing more than the preaching-as most kids are likely to do. We knew the page number to all our favorite songs-and we’d anxiously wait to see if the song leader called out one of our favorites. Down On My Knees written by Mosie Lister, The Prettiest Flowes Will Be Blooming by Albert E. Brumley, I Want To Know More About My Lord by Lee Roy Abernathy, and Are You Washed In The Blood by Rev. E.A. Hoffman were a few of the fast upbeat songs we liked. But both of us had a love for the more lonesome gospel songs too like- Lord I’m Coming Home by William J. Kirkpatrick, Almost Persuaded by P.P. Bliss, Oh Why Not Tonight by J. Calvin Bushey, and Take My Hand Precious Lord by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey.

The lyrics of those old gospel songs I grew up with lend themselves to the culture of Appalachia-not that they all were written here-most were not. But the strong recurring themes of God, Jesus, love, the cross, faith, death, blood, hell, rivers, long roads, toiling, snares, mountains, lights, rejoicing, happiness, joy, better times to come, dark valleys, and loved ones calling come-fit perfectly in the mindset of most folks born and raised in Appalachia. I would go so far as to say the manner in which they were written-the words used-strike a chord with the language of Appalachia. Maybe in the same way the isolated nature of the Appalachia region played a role in the continuity of our dialect-it also aided in folks holding on to the hymns and sacred songs of our past.

Here’s one of my favorite old gospel songs. Oh, What A Savior written by Marvin P. Dalton in 1948.

I hope you enjoyed Paul and Pap.

Perhaps if I could find the words to explain the humbleness of gentle mountain men, women, and children coming together to sing in worship to their God you could understand the importance of gospel music in Appalachia-but I kinda feel like I’m a day late and a dollar short. The following story is a good example of what I’m trying to say:

Two old matriarchs stand out from the church of my youth. One of them walked to church-as I look back it seems too far a piece for an old lady to walk. But she did. She spent her last years in the local nursing home. She seldom knew her family members-not even her own children. But any time the home had someone come in to play the piano she’d sit right there and sing every word of every old gospel song they played. She didn’t know her children-but those songs of faith that guided her through her long long life were still there for her to call upon when she reached the last mile of her way.


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    July 19, 2016 at 4:34 am

    Its lovely listening to Paul and Pap sing. May the good Lord continue to bless you everyday!

  • Reply
    August 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm


  • Reply
    October 11, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    I agree completely with Robert, I couldn’t have said it better…that there’s nothing in the contemporary songs to match the doctrinal clarity and depth of devotion in our traditional hymns.

  • Reply
    January 8, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Greetings from Wordwise Hymns, and thanks for your post. I appreciate your passionate defense of old-time gospel music. And I agree that there’s nothing in the contemporary songs to match the doctrinal clarity and depth of devotion in our traditional hymns. God bless…and keep singing!

  • Reply
    October 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    WONDERFUL| I love it, it does my heart so good to hear the old songs, and your Pap, he is a cute little feller, and can sing. Thanks again, God Bless, and have a nice day. kay

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    October 11, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Well Tipper — this post, hands down, is now tied as my favorite post of yours — the other favorite was when you wrote about going to the Moving Vietnam Wall display. You have pretty much managed to capture in print my feelings toward these old hymns. And, sad to say, they truly have/are being replaced in my neck of the woods. I will wait until you post again about favorite gospel songs — and I esp. want to comment on one that Pap sings on your sidebar that I had never heard and I just LOVE it. Again, don’t sell your short — this post is a homerun out of the ballpark.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    October 11, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    When I went church as a kid, one didn’t dare sing anything but the old sacred hymns. “The Old Rugged Cross”, “Rock of Ages”, “In the Garden”, “Trust and Obey”, “Blessed Assurance”, “Onward Christian Soldiers”, so many beautiful hymns; there were and still are so many wonderful old hymns that one should never need to add to the list with the “Contemporary Christian Music” we hear so much of these days (and for the most part I loathe). Leave me with “Kneel at the Cross” or “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “He Lives”.
    Back then, I’m sure many a kid felt indicted if they didn’t know every one of those songs, so we would look at the hymnal and move our lips to the words and occasionally thrust out our chin and raise up our face in feigned exultation and act like we were really singing and thank goodness those around us sang louder and we were shorter.
    There was one hymn though that I dreaded. Oh, it was equally beautiful, but when I heard the strains of “Softly and Tenderly (Jesus is Calling)” I knew it was time for the alter call and time for me to slide a way down in the pew or hide my face in the hymnal.
    If I loved any “popular” hymn singing, it was the singing of the original Chuck Wagon Gang. So many artists have the ability of tight and wonderous harmony but for hymns, theirs was the standard for beauty, feeling and inspiration. Thank goodness their records still turn up in the Goodwill store from time to time.
    Tipper, I enjoy your articles, essays and stories so much. Thank you for Blind Pig and the Acorn.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    October 10, 2010 at 3:59 am

    The problem with today’s music is the lack of beauty. The old music is so expressive, emotional and harmonious and without the loud drums and percussive bass, you can actually HEAR the words! I love the old-time gospel music, too. I listen to satellite radio and they have a channel that is all gospel, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They also have an all bluegrass station. On Sunday mornings, the bluegrass station plays bluegrass gospel. These two stations are real treats.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2010 at 8:09 am

    I am more partial to the old time hymns myself.
    My Mom passed 4 years ago, but I can still hear her singing those hymns, like The Old Rugged Cross and many others.
    Great post, Tipper!

  • Reply
    October 8, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    I also prefer the old Gospel songs of my youth. I really dont much care for the Praise songs although I am sure they reach the YOUNGER crowd out there. My Grandmothers favorite & one of mine is “I’ll Fly Away” She sang that to every child/grandchild & the greats. We all grew up listing to that. Thanks for the wonderful music & memories.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    Great post, Tipper: you know, I missed so much of this music because I grew up catholic. I imagine that the baptist kids in town probably had more contact with it. In fact, the first time I ever encountered the Louvin Brothers was on a list of “worst album covers ever” (that Satan is Real cover *is* a doozy), but of course the music is just fine inside 🙂

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    October 8, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing your love of the great music. I say great, because while I do enjoy other music, the old-time gospel, bluegrass gospel and generally early church music is what really speaks to my soul. I have a few cherished old cassette tapes with groups like the Principals, and Cedar Lake….thanks again for sharing…

  • Reply
    Rick M
    October 8, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    Thank you Tipper I had forgotten about walking to church with my granddaddy as a young boy. I like the new praise and worship songs. But like you it’s the songs that I heard growing up that touch me the most.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Here I go again ( the broke record ). Your writing skills become more keen with each posting. You should write YOUR book.
    Don’t plague yourself with doubts about your skill. You may or may not know that when Johnny Cash recorded “I Walk The Line” he just hated it it. He thought it was terrible and he didn’t want people to hear it. The record company and his band insisted so he gave in. Was he wrong or what? You see sometimes a person can be great at something but not realize it. Let me give you a metaphor, to me your writing skills are like a thoroughbred horse in a small pasture. It needs to run on a fast track to be fulfilled. I don’t say stop what you’re doing, but maybe you could squeeze that top seller book in as well.
    On another note, I enjoyed those stories and those old songs. When I was a little boy when I was at my Granny’s house she would put me on her lap (she was a rather large woman and didn’t have much of a lap) and she would play “Are You Washed In The Blood”. I loved this posting today.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Wow! Now this is why I like the Blind Pig and the Acorn so much. It takes a lot of courage to proclain your Faith and love of
    Gospel music, and it all comes from a dedicated family.
    Years before we had a car, my mama
    and daddy walked to church every
    Sunday morning and back again for
    services that night. And as kids,
    we had to go, no exception. But
    through the years that followed I
    learned to appreciate their strong
    Faith and dedication to our Savior. Mama was paralyzed on her
    left side from a stroke, right after I was born, but she was the
    greatest Christian I have ever known. And in my quiet times in my
    mind, I can still hear her singing
    “Just As I Am” and “Jesus Savior,
    Pilot Me”.
    Thank you for your heart-felt post…Ken

  • Reply
    Uncle Dave
    October 8, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    All I can say is AMEN!
    What a wonderful time awaits us when we all get Home.
    Uncle Dave
    Richmond, Kentucky

  • Reply
    Tulsa Jack
    October 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    To me, music reflects the harmony of the soul. Happiness is the “song in our hearts,” for we are all members of God’s choir. There is only the Dance.

  • Reply
    Nancy Wigmore
    October 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for sharing Tipper. I love those good old gospel songs. My mama’s favorite that we sing when we get together is ” A Beautiful Life” It most exemplifies her life growing up…and even though she is blind…she still spreads sunshine and flowers along the way. My daddy’s was Amazing Grace. He is with Jesus and has been since 1971. Thanks again for sharing this post. May the Lord bless you with a beautiful day. God grant you peace and joy all along life’s way. Prayerfully, Nancy

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 8, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Hi Tipper, I must say I am not familiar with a lot of the songs, my mother and grandmother were both Grace so as you can imagine my favorite is Amazing Grace which we played at both of their funerals. My grandmother was very active in the Church of God and we went often with her so I am sure if I heard them they would be familiar. That was indeed the best part of going to church.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    October 8, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Lord have mercy! Did you ever touch a meaningful spot with this post. Just one title I have NEVER heard is “The Great Atomic Power” I would like to know more about that song. I will google it!
    Your note about the dear old lady who was ‘almost’ too old to walk to church reminds me of so many dear ladies who made their way to our “Church of God” in Hayesville for every service. My mama and daddy always ‘picked up’ one special ‘sister Curtis’ when we would be slowly plodding by her house on our way to church in our horse-drawn ‘double’ wagon. Even though the wagon was full of children, there was always room for Sister Curtis! TOO DEAR!
    Eva Nell
    p.s. I am going to share this post with my brother, who is headed back to Afganistan in three days!

  • Reply
    Rich Jackson
    October 8, 2010 at 10:16 am

    oh what a savior, has been tagged on my favorite list here on you tube since i first heard it on this channel. i’m in a bluegrass gospel group and also love the old standards

  • Reply
    Debora Kerr
    October 8, 2010 at 9:14 am

    I really enjoyed this post and hearing those songs.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2010 at 9:13 am

    I feel the exact same way -there is just nothing like the old songs they bring they joy and the praise to my heart and soul. Your video of Pap and paul is so good to listen -what voices!

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    October 8, 2010 at 12:00 am

    You expressed yourself beautifully, Tipper. Wonderful post!

  • Reply
    avery reese
    October 7, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Well done,Tipper.
    When we sing songs and make music that praises Jesus Christ it is soothing to the soul. He is so much to sing about!!
    Thanks for keeping these great sounds echoing!!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    October 7, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Wonderful post as usual Tipper,
    Paul and Paps singing and playing was wonderful as well
    “Oh, What a Savior” brings back the memory of the old time hymns and small church singings…
    To get the spirit going my friend would play “I’ll Fly Away” on the the end of the song..the congregation was in the spirit, requests for audience singers and songs flowed like a waterfall…LOL..with clapping, Amens and Spiritual movement in the church…
    Rev. Dorseys “Peace In the Valley” is also one of my favorite hymns of all these years…he also wrote “Its a Highway to Heaven” with music by Marg Garner…
    The stories behind the written music to a lot of these old time hymns will bring tears to your eyes as well…
    When I was a child my Aunt in NC would never let me leave her house without having me sing to her…”Whispering Hope” a child I used to think that maybe that was the only song she knew…LOL..then for days afterword it wandered around in my head with me humming and realizing it..It still does at times…funny how these old hymns and their words stay with you forever…

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    October 7, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    What a lovely rendition of that song. Loved it.
    And for the record, it’s OK to be a crazed religious fanatic every now and again. ; )

  • Reply
    October 7, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Hi Tipper:
    My husband shares Wanda’s (above comment) exact sentiments on today’s Praise Worship songs. I like the contemporary praise songs, but prefer to sing the old hymns in church.
    Last week I had to have surgery. As they wheeled me from my hospital bed all the way to the operating room and to the last memory I have before going under the anesthesia, in my head I was singing the old hymns. What comfort they give!
    As always, I just love your blog!
    Blessings from San Diego:

  • Reply
    October 7, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    In regards to the story of the woman in the home, absolutely, that is what it is all about. We can be abandoned by family and friends, or through disease, forget who they are but the One that matters remains, that is if we indeed had laid hold of Him. We are never alone, we never do things alone, we never live alone, we never die alone. These are the things spoken of in sacred music.

  • Reply
    Donna W
    October 7, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    My favorite hymn as a child was “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand”. These days, it’s “The Solid Rock”. Love the old hymns.

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    October 7, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Like you I share a love of those old gospel songs of my youth! They bring me such peace : )

  • Reply
    October 7, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Hi Tipper, Great post… I love the old gospel hymns. We had Sunday night church when I grew up–and we sang out of a hymnal called the Cokesbury Hymnal. I learned all of the old songs back then –but kids today have never heard of them… I have such great memories of Sunday night church….
    Some of my fav’s:
    In the Garden
    Whiter than Snow
    Whispering Hope
    Whiter than Snow
    Living for Jesus
    His Eye is on the Sparrow
    MANY MANY more…

  • Reply
    October 7, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Oh how wonderful to listen to Paul & Pap sing. I grew up singing that and the other old gospel songs, in the litle country church we attended. Like some of the now called praise songs, but they can’t replace the hymns in my opinion. Really hate that the world has got so modern, that alot of the old ways are being replaced. Our young folks are missing alot. Love reading your blog. It makes my day.

  • Reply
    October 7, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Some of my fondest childhood memories are of attending all-day singings at our church when groups and quartets from all over came and sang those wonderful old hymns. I still have LPs of some of my favorite groups from those days. My favorite gospel singer of all time was Vestal Goodman. Man, that woman could sing it out.

  • Reply
    Wanda in NoAla
    October 7, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Tipper, I love your type of gospel music! Some of the ‘praise’ music today is nothing more than rock music. The music is sometimes so loud you can’t hear the lyrics, so it is no different from what you might hear in a nightclub.
    The little church I attended as a child had several song leaders, and we all had our favorites. There was one who always sang my favorites, so I loved it when it was his day to sing!
    Looking forward to hearing more of this…Wanda

  • Reply
    October 7, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Tipper, Paul and Pap playing that hymn was really soul touching. Gospel music is an important part of our music heritage. This was a great post.

  • Reply
    October 7, 2010 at 9:29 am

    You have such a wonderful way of making me feel what you describe. What beautiful and powerful music. Continued Blessings!

  • Reply
    October 7, 2010 at 9:22 am

    I share your love for sacred music, Tipper. Perhaps the lack of words to describe the emotion is part of the glorious mystery of the music?!:)

  • Leave a Reply