Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2011-12-17


Music historian and musician Bobby Horton advised Samford University graduates on Saturday that the only real security lies in how many things they know how to do, how hard they’re willing to work and how well they know the Lord.

“Those are the only real securities in life,” Horton told Samford’s 261 fall graduates during commencement in Wright Center.

Horton, a 1972 Samford graduate, said that his grandfather helped him define security many years ago when he needed to decide between two career paths. He could continue a secure career as a computer programmer or follow his passion for music with his popular band, Three on a String.

“Both jobs were going a little bit too well, and I was never home,” recalled Horton, who heeded his grandfather’s counsel to consider which one he liked best and would support his family. 

Thankfully for the vast audiences that have enjoyed his talent and expertise as a music historian, Horton chose music over his job at an insurance company.  “I left and haven’t looked back other than to recall the fond memories of the people there.”

Known for his work to preserve American song, Horton has collaborated with documentary film maker Ken Burns on 13 projects, selecting and some cases playing music for such Burns projects as The Civil War, Baseball, Lewis and Clark, The National Parks and others.

The Birmingham native plays instruments ranging from banjo to trumpet, which he played as a member of the Samford marching band. For the commencement audience at his alma mater, he noted the curiosity of his choice of academic majors.  “I had a passion for music and history, so I decided to major in accounting and minor in economics,” quipped Horton, one of the world’s leading authorities on music of the Civil War.

Horton expanded on the advice from his “poppa” by urging the graduates to always grow the number of things they know how to do.  “Take advantage of continuing education programs, for instance. Always keep learning. Learn something new every day,” said Horton.

Also, evaluate how hard you are willing to work, he said. “You have to tell yourself that ‘I’m not too good to work hard.’ There is a satisfaction in it.”

Thirdly, he said, consider how well you know the Lord.  Horton said that over the years he has realized the importance of a deep spiritual life, whether as it relates to family, friends or job.  “My heroes are all persons of faith,” he said.

“I’ve had a wonderful life and I love what I do. I’ve gotten to do things I never thought I would do, and met people I never thought I would meet.  I hope you have happiness and success and realize your dream,” he told the graduates. “Don’t ever let go of your dreams, but be realistic about them.” 

Horton lived up to Samford president Dr. Andrew Westmoreland’s prediction that he would be an interesting and “unorthodox commencement speaker” when he concluded his remarks on a musical note.

Horton played guitar while his longtime friend, retired Samford music faculty member Dr. Bill Bugg, sang the 19th century American folk spiritual “The Wayfaring Stranger.” The song, observed Horton, “draws on wisdom for the ages to talk about the journey through this life.”

Saturday commencement activity also included a recognition ceremony for Brock School of Business graduates, an Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing hooding ceremony, a graduating senior art exhibition reception and an Air Force ROTC Commissioning Ceremony.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.