By Anita Garner
Brother Ray Jones and Nita Faye 1950’s
They had me singing on the radio in Columbus Georgia at the age of 3. No adjustable microphone. I stood on chairs or sometimes boxes or crates stacked up in front of a tall boom microphone. The mic faced the disc jockey/announcer/sometimes station owner operating the controls on the other side of the glass.
By the time I was 7 or 8, Daddy chose a new repertoire for me, deciding which songs would help him put across the message he was about to preach. He taught me to sing one of his favorites, a song with dramatic lyrics and a big buildup. From the start it didn’t feel like something I’d ask a little girl to sing, but I performed it for years because he asked me to. In this picture from the 1950s I’m singing “Then Jesus Came.” Daddy’s playing steel guitar over there beside me, every now and then saying “Yes Lord” the way people in our churches worshipped out loud.
I didn’t get the full story told in this song until I heard George Beverly Shea sing it on one of Billy Graham’s early radio shows. Then I thought, that’s how it’s supposed to sound and announced to Daddy I didn’t want to sing it anymore.
Here’s a version I like. This is Larry Wayne Morbitt, singing at a Gaither Gospel show. Larry toured with Phantom of the Opera and to my mind, his is the voice this story requires.
Look closely at the front of the pulpit in the picture. Mother had just completed one of her chalk drawings (See previous blog) which would be auctioned off at the end of the service.
My brother and I were not happy little harmonizers on The Glory Road. Daddy was following his calling to preach, Mother followed her calling to sing, but we two believed our true calling was to amble down a country road somewhere that led to a house of our own, a school we’d go to every day, and friends who’d know us from one year to the next. Just because you can sing harmony it doesn’t mean you always want to.
We were on the tent revival circuit, booked for months in advance and from time to time the family needed to refresh our presentation. Daddy said we’d best practice before we get to Amarillo. He enticed us into learning our parts by singing songs we liked on the radio. We started off with The Sons Of The Pioneers’ Tumbling Tumbleweeds and when we had our parts down on that one, he switched to What A Friend We Have In Jesus in the same key.
Long stretches of Route 66 through the Deep South offered nothing to look at except tumbleweeds, giant puffs of them rolling free on the highway or stuck to a fence. Daddy played a game with them.
A huge tumbleweed clump was minding its own business somewhere in Texas and as we got closer it loomed about half-a-car size. The motion of our big old sedan invited it to dance. It floated up and plopped on the windshield, covering the view. Leslie Ray said, Daddy you better stop but Daddy said, watch this.
Instead of stopping and freeing the thing, his game was to keep driving and speed up, then brake quickly trying to get it to release itself. Man against nature. It wasn’t safe, but not much about car travel was back then.
Here are The Sons Of The Pioneers helping two young Gospel Gypsies learn harmony.
Daddy. Reverend Raymond D. Jones. Brother Ray.
Daddy was the sheriff of Mayberry with a deep Southern drawl and a Bible in his hand. Tall and good looking and enormously likable, he was in possession of both the strength and the patience of a natural leader.
Musical. Charismatic. Genuinely kind. Taught us to plant things, how to dig up baby potatoes, how to sing harmony in the car. The latter is important when what your family does is sing gospel harmony.
Daddy’s teaching methods were transparent but effective. To learn our parts, he started us off with the cowboy songs we loved and transitioned from Tumbling Tumbleweeds to What a Friend We Have In Jesus.
Headed to the radio station in Columbus Georgia, 1945. Sister Fern might not enjoy this photo of her with eyes closed and curls springing loose, but I like it. Sorry, Mother. We’ll make it up to you next Mother’s Day.