Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works. And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts: and I will declare thy greatness. They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness.
(Psalm 145: 3-7 KJV)
Precious Memories, how they linger,
How they ever flood my soul.
In the stillness of the midnight,
Precious sacred scenes unfold.
(“Precious Memories,” J.B.F. Wright)
It was Tennessee Ernie Ford who introduced the old hymn “Precious Memories” to me, in one of his many recordings. My mother was, and is, a fan of that warm baritone and his staunch insistence that each of his weekly television shows end with a hymn.
Ernest Jennings Ford was born in Bristol, on the Tennessee side, and grew up singing in the Methodist church there. He did some radio in Knoxville, then disappeared from the scene for a while. He turned up again, singing the title song for the movie “The River of No Return.” My family saw it at a drive-in, back when drive-ins were still respectable places for a family with small children to see a movie. When the soundtrack started, Mother exclaimed, “That’s Tennessee Ernie!” Daddy said, “No, it couldn’t be.” But Mother insisted, and the final credits proved her right.
“Sixteen Tons” followed soon after, and not long after that, Mr. Ford had a weekly television show. His trademark was that he ended each show by singing a hymn. “Those who know best” in the entertainment industry warned him not to do it, that it would not be received well by the television audience. It was Ernie’s show, however, and he loved the old hymns, and he was, by golly, going to sing one every week.
The audience – both in the studio and at home – loved it.
It was later that he started making records, and several of those were collections of hymns: standards, old-time favorites, spirituals – he did them all. When his recording of “Precious Memories” came out, it was a new hymn to me, but my mother remembered her father and mother singing it in church.
Interestingly, the composer of that old hymn was a Tennessean also: J.B.F. Wright, born Feb. 21, 1877. (I had chosen this subject for this week’s column before I knew that the composer’s birthdate was this week: happenstance? coincidence? Kismet?
Interestingly, these days I can’t remember what was on my grocery list because I didn’t remember to take the list with me to the store!
But when I woke up with the song “Memories, light the corners of my mind, misty watercolor memories of the way we were” running through my head, I knew that “Precious Memories” was where this column was headed. And, like the folk songs I learned in high school, which I can still sing in their entirety, these are precious memories, laid down in the bedrock of my memory, far below and sturdier than more recent lyrics or events.
A wise man said that the only Scripture available to you when you most need it is what you carry in your head. The same is true of your hymnody. It is wise to tuck away some powerful verses from the Bible and a few sturdy hymns to get you through!