September 14, 2007
". . .The response was overwhelmingly positive and the event has continued annually, usually as the closing event of the annual Family Weekend in early fall. . . ."
What began as a Samford Auxiliary program of tribute to the music and memory of gospel music composer Philip P. Bliss has become a popular and growing “Old Song Sing-Along” tradition.
The idea was born during the summer of 1990 when Samford President Thomas E. Corts was visiting his parents and in-laws in his hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio. An avid old book collector, Corts happened upon a copy of P.P. Bliss’s Memoirs in the used bookshop on Ashtabula’s Main Street. Having first learned as a child in First Baptist Church there of the famous gospel song writer, Corts purchased the book. He knew some Bliss songs and recalled that Bliss had been killed in Ashtabula when a railroad bridge collapsed.
After a cache of new material was found in a local museum, Corts joined with The Reverend Virgil Reeve, then pastor of Ashtabula’s First Baptist Church, in a symposium on the 125th anniversary of the bridge disaster. Papers at the symposium became the book, Bliss and Tragedy: The Ashtabula Railway-Bridge Accident of 1876 and the Loss of P.P. Bliss. It was edited by Corts for the 125th anniversary of the event. A companion book, Songs of Bliss: a 125th Year Remembrance of Songwriter Philip Paul Bliss, also compiled by Corts, was printed for that occasion.
The books and music stuck a nostalgic note in a much larger audience than the Auxiliary membership. Later, at a Pastors Conference, Corts said he was surprised to discover how many people knew the old songs of Albert Brumley, Marion Easterling and others. The response inspired Corts to convene a program of congregational singing on campus. It was billed as an Old Song Sing-Along. A booklet of old songs is compiled and members of the audience select which ones are to be sung by the congregation.
The first Sing-Along took place Oct. 5, 2003 in Samford’s Reid Chapel under the direction of legendary gospel musician Dick Baker of Dallas, Texas. The program featured Bliss’ 10 most popular songs. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the event has continued annually, usually as the closing event of the annual Family Weekend in early fall.
The next event is Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, beginning at 2 p.m. in Reid Chapel on the Samford campus. It is free and open to the public.
Joseph Hopkins, dean of Samford’s School of the Arts, will direct the program, which also will feature concert organist Ken Varner of Simpsonville, S.C. and church and concert pianist Barbara Bamberg of Houston, Texas. The Samford A Cappella Choir also will sing.