By Dr. Steven Seigart
Director of Music/Organist
Improvisation on “Sweet Hour of Prayer”
—Steven Seigart (b. 1990)
Stand By Me (“When the storms of life are raging”)
—Charles Albert Tindley (1851–1933), arr. by Jack Fascinato (1915–1994)
Sung by the Meeting House Virtual Choir
Elise Jenkins, alto solo
Just A Closer Walk With Thee
—Larry Dalton (1949–2009)
The common thread in today’s music, at least for me, is the singer and television host Tennessee Ernie Ford. My grandfather, and later, my mother, often had one of his records playing, and the unique blending of country, gospel, and at times, rock and roll, captivated me from a young age. But as I became more and more involved in worship music, it was Ford’s albums Hymns and Spirituals, with his own studio chorus and with Elvis’ backup group, The Jordanaires—that informed my own hymn playing, with arrangements (done up by Ford’s bandleader Jack Fascinato) that turned hymns that seemed square on the page into extraordinary, exciting, dynamic experiences. We’ll do one of those arrangements today, the first track of Ford’s compilation album Amazing Grace, a hymn by gospel hymn writer and preacher Charles Albert Tindley, “Stand by me.”
Charles Tindley’s life story is fascinating and worth discussing here. He grew up not far from here in Maryland, the son of an enslaved father and free mother, and eventually moved to Philadelphia, where he was educated not in school (he was not allowed) but by enlisting private tutors, including learning Hebrew and Greek through a local synagogue. He passed with flying colors to become a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church—eventually becoming pastor of a church at which he used be the janitor. He led one of the first and most notable multiracial congregations in Philadelphia, and began to run with high-ranking social circles, including John Wanamaker, and used his political clout to begin a building and loan association to provide mortgages and business assistance to his members. He also pushed back against racist policies and degrading activities, and led a protest against the silent film The Birth of the Nation (a highly successful film that amounted to KKK propaganda), during which he was severely beaten by white counter-protesters.
Tindley was a captivating preacher and understood the importance of music in inspiring and furthering his message of hope, justice, and change. His hymn “I’ll Overcome Someday” is largely seen as the basis for the later protest song “We Shall Overcome,” and today’s hymn “Stand by me” is one of his most popular. It’s simple but powerful, and the present arrangement by Jack Fascinato allows the words to truly shine as an earnest petition:
When the storms of life are raging, stand by me
When the storms of life are raging, stand by me;
When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.
We’ll also have arrangements of other hymns Tennessee Ernie Ford often sang and recorded, including William Bradbury’s hymn “Sweet hour of prayer” and now-jazz-standard “Just a closer walk with thee,” whose origins are unknown.
Don’t forget to record a video of you and your family singing along to the “Amen” response at the end of the service! Find out more at opmh.org/amen.