This SectionRevised 4-22-05

The following article appeared in THE HYMN published by the Hymn Society of America, Jan. 2005
Order: B801 $14.99

A Song is Born; A Collection of Inspiring Hymn Stories

By Robert J. Taylor. Montgomery, TX: 
Taylor Publications, 2004. 320 pp. ISBN: 1-932711-00-7. 
U. S. $14.99  (www.taylorpublications.net).

Robert J. Taylor is a music minister, for the Woodland Oaks Church of Christ, who has dedicated himself, since his retirement from a career in the oil industry in 1986, to improving and preserving congregational singing. He relates that he started leading singing in Churches of Christ at the age of ten and has just never stopped. In the last 18 years he has logged more than 300,000 miles in his travels around the United States searching out the stories behind the hymns that he writes about in A Song is Born. He calls his approach “Grass Roots Hymnology,” and it is that kind of dedicated research to which the field of hymnology has always been indebted.
  Most of the 100 hymns surveyed by Taylor in his book date from the late nineteenth century to the present. There are some familiar stories of familiar favorites like “Amazing Grace,” “Blest be the Tie,” “When I survey the Wondrous Cross,” etc., but the primary value of this collection lies in the information that Taylor has uncovered about some lesser known hymns, most from the southern gospel tradition. These range from “Precious Memories” (1925) by Texas J. B. F. Wright to “One Day at a Time” (1974), a song co-authored by Kris Kristofferson and another Texan, Marijohn Wilkin. As a native Texan I was impressed with the number of Texas connections throughout the book, although Taylor assures me that the emphasis was not planned. As home base of the Stamps Baxter Music Co., of course, Texas played an important role in the history of twentieth-century gospel hymnody. The reader will find this book a treasure trove of new information about many of these songs. Taylor also emphasizes the most recent trend in congregational song: the praise and worship song, which has also found popularity lately in some Churches of Christ. Examples of this genre include “Like as a Deer,” “Majesty,” and “Awesome God.”
  The book is attractively produced in paperback. For each hymn Taylor includes a four-voice singing version in the seven-shaped note format still found in many, if not most, Church of Christ songbooks (Yes, “Awesome God” in shaped notes!). The hymn is followed by a related passage of scripture and then the story about the hymn and/or its creator(s). Taylor has included pictures of the hymnists in most cases, another feature not often found in these collections. As the subtitle suggests, the stories tend to be of the inspirational variety, but the author’s careful and diligent research also shines through on every page. For that reason A Song is Born is recommended to anyone interested in the history of gospel hymnody.

Larry Wolz is Professor and head of the Department of Music History and Literature at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas and book review editor for THE HYMN.