Elvis, music remind us ‘How Great Thou Art’

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Kathy and I have a new routine. Driving to church, our satellite radio is tuned to “Sunday Morning Gospel Time” on the Elvis channel.

Yes, it’s because of the musical jolt we received from seeing this year’s “Elvis” movie. Both of us tend to get a little obsessive about certain things sometimes, and right now it’s Presleymania.

Those gospel songs that Elvis loved are inspiring, though, and some are fun, too. Maybe the best of them is “How Great Thou Art,” which movingly praises the all-knowing and all-powerful God. And as great as George Beverly Shea sang it countless times at Billy Graham crusades, Elvis’s rendition can’t be beat. The “King of Rock ’n’ Roll” displays the soft touch of his voice with “Oh Lord my God,” that rolls into a crescendo of power and vocal range at the climax, “How great thou art!”

With a memory boost from my brother David, I recall now that Elvis sang “How Great Thou Art” for the sellout crowd at Lubbock Municipal Coliseum in 1972. It was part of the reason both of us became his fans.

“He Touched Me” also reveals that gentle Presley tone and, like much music does for all of us, brings me memories of the past. I’m sure I heard Richard Campbell, the native of Matador, Texas, and a Texas Tech All-America football player, sing it at my hometown church in the early 1970s. He had recorded a couple of Christian albums and had a strong voice not unlike that of Elvis.

Mike Haynes

And how can you not get into the rollicking tempos of southern gospel tunes such as “Run On” and “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” with Elvis singing lead and the pumping backup vocals by the Stamps Quartet, the deeper-than Johnny-Cash bass of J.D. Sumner and the pretty female voices of the Sweet Inspirations? That’s stirring music – and fun.

Gospel music brings God to the forefront, of course, and I think that’s who gives talent to the people who write it and perform it. I’m thankful. But I also have gratitude for music that may not be Christian but is just enjoyable.

I thank God for John Denver’s lovely “Annie’s Song,” which was played last weekend at the wedding of my brother, Sam, and his new bride, Jonnie. For “Amazing Grace,” one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever – especially when heard on bagpipes. For Bob Wills’ “Faded Love,” which is almost as sad as Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”

Cover of Elvis's album,

For “Oh Boy!” and “Peggy Sue,” written by Buddy Holly from just down the road. For the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” For “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, not really spiritual but still encouraging. For “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” and others featuring the smooth sound of Charley Pride. For “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and other bluegrass pickin’. For Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain,” harmonized brilliantly at both my mother Joyce’s and sister-in-law Ginger’s funerals by hometown brothers Bobby and Carey Richardson.

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