June 19, 2012

Making Music


While organizing some collected family papers and artifacts, my mom ran across the book pictured above, a songbook called Liberty Bells. This battered paperback volume belonged to my great-great-grandfather, whose name you can barely see penciled in on the first page below (D.J. Maxwell). Apparently he often led the singing at church and this very book is the one he sang from.


I am proud to have quite a few musically-inclined folks in my lineage. My mom’s paternal great-great-grandfather, Snowden Oakley Whittaker, is said to have had perfect musical pitch and he traveled around Middle Tennessee teaching singing schools in the now famous ‘Sacred harp’ style.

In his late teens, my mom’s dad was part of the Southern Melody Boys, a barbershop quartet that performed all around the region, most notably at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

As a teenager I would often sing at church and even traveled around a bit with my great-grandfather, Rev. Carson Whiteaker, when he’d go visitin’ ill or elderly people. During a typical visit, my grandpa would speak to the folks, I’d sing a song or two (sometimes a cappella or with my battery-operated cassette player), my great-grandma would give them a fried pie, we’d have a prayer and be on our way…until the next house on our visitin’ route. As a teenager, I’m sure there were plenty of other things I’d rather have been doing, but these memories are so precious to me now.


My favorite part of this old songbook is the final two pages, where the above four songs are located. All popular tunes in the Baptist church, one or more of these four songs (Amazing Grace, Softly and Tenderly, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, and Just As I Am) pretty much applies no matter what the circumstances may be. I know from my experiences growing up Baptist, we sang them frequently.

This past Sunday (Father’s Day), I was able to visit with my parents and my mom’s mom and dad. We pulled the song book out and had an old fashioned singing right in the living room. It made my heart glad to sing these old songs, sung by so many other believers as well as beloved family members who came before us.

Does your family have any musical traditions that you hold near and dear?