Shall we gather at the river?

By Anita GarnerWhen I was coming up, Southern preachers used euphemisms for death.  The older I get, the more I appreciate them.  People who believe in heaven may be the lucky ones because they’re comforted by specific words other believers say to them and the songs they sing.

So many ways Daddy talked about death – See you on the other side.  Crossing over.  Passing.  Meet you at the river.  And what my mother said to her mother at Forest Lawn – “I’ll see you in the morning.”

When Reverend Raymond D. Jones was the one speaking to the mourners, he’d get some music going behind him as we cogitated on all the ways people leave us.  His remarks always included, “The Lord calls us home.”  Then he’d have us stand up and sing about it. We shared many traditions with neighboring black churches and one I wish we’d borrowed is “homegoing.”  Our preachers continued to say “funeral” or “the service” as in “the service on Saturday for Sister Ogden.”

Everyone in our family sang at funerals. Daddy most often asked me to sing “Beautiful Isle Of Somewhere.”  Mother sang “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” and “Precious Lord” and “Just A Closer Walk.”  Daddy invited mourners to stand and sing with us, “I Won’t Have To Cross Jordan Alone” and “Shall We Gather At The River.” Two of his other choices, when he had the right singers and the right instruments, could go on for a long time: “Walk In Jerusalem (Just like John)” and “Swing Down Chariot.”

The first song below is from the Kennedy Center’s “Let Freedom Ring” celebration for Dr. King.  Gladys Knight sings

“His eye is on the sparrow.”

And two of our family’s favorites


“Swing Down Chariot”

Harmonizing Four

“Walk In Jerusalem”

Photo above and below: Little Brown Church in Studio City, California was
my church home for years.










The Glory Road – Let’s put on a show!

Here’s how The Glory Road book became a play first. I began writing the book years ago, put it aside and turned to short stories. A Los Angeles broadcast buddy, Don Barrett, introduced me to estimable literary agent, Carol Schild, who suggested I make the stories into a play.  Entertaining friends got together and we put on a show.

Multiple talents made up the casts, offering suggestions all along. There were revisions and more revisions, all valuable lessons for a first-time playwright.  I was new to it.  They weren’t.

Both directors, David Atkinson and Greg (North) Zerkle, (accomplished actors and directors – and boy can they sing!) are friends I met at church in Los Angeles.  The casts for each show started in our congregation and kept extending out to performing friends of friends.   The church we had in common was Little Brown Church in Studio City which grew into Church Of The Valley, Van Nuys.  These two congregations were (and still are) populated with singers and musicians and dancers and writers and actors and radio and television and movie and Broadway babies.

I keep rewrite notes attached to each of these script versions in the picture above. Once the new book is launched, I hope to see The Glory  Road onstage again, full throttle, lots of music and our show’s Southern Gospel quartet in matching jackets, beautiful harmony, Ray and Fern and their big love story and big conflicts.

Here’s a version of the song we opened with onstage. Our quartets rocked! Written in the 1950’s by Lee Roy Abernathy, this version of “He’s A Personal Savior” is performed by the Gaither Vocal Band.

Bonus – another Lee Roy Abernathy song he’s most famous for.  Performed here by The Blackwood Brothers. Originally titled “A Wonderful Time Up There,” it quickly became known as “Gospel Boogie.” This one’s made for a bass singer.  This version is by Brian Free & Assurance.





On The Glory Road

The Glory Road is where I spend most of my time these days, immersed in the book manuscript. Interested parties ask, why aren’t you blogging about that?   Starting with this week’s post, I’ll share some of the process while putting together this multi-media project about the life of my family.

We traveled the Deep South in the 1950’s, carrying songs from then to now.  Today the music Mother and Daddy recorded, much of it written by Mother, Sister Fern Jones, is heard everywhere.  Brother Ray Jones (Daddy) added harmony and rhythm guitar.

I’ll add photos and music from time to time and if you want a reminder about each week’s post, you can sign up on this page where it says “Subscribe to blog via email.”

Here are a couple of paragraphs from The Glory Road book manuscript:

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. Mother was a pretty and provocative teenaged honky-tonk queen turned into a preacher’s wife and gospel singer. 

We were gospel gypsies, short on money, heavy in equipment, stopping to perform at Singings, at churches, under revival tents and at radio stations. We spent much of the 1950’s in our old sedan, traveling the Deep South wherever his calling to preach and her calling to sing took us. The front seat made the decisions while the back seat waited to see where we’d be living for the next few weeks….

Here’s gospel-to-rockabilly in one song, “Keeps Me Busy”  from the album “Fern Jones, The Glory Road.”  Re-mastered by Jeff Lipton at Peerless Mastering in Boston and released by Numero Group out of Chicago.  The original was recorded in the 1950’s at the Bradley Brothers’ famous Quonset Hut in Nashville. Guitar licks from legendary Hank Garland. While recording this album, all the studio musicians were also working with Elvis over at RCA.

More about projects at




Dear Coffee

I wonder how coffee got to be known as cuppa Joe or java?  Well now I do want to know.  Be right back.  Here’s what Google says.

Coffee is known as Joe because Joe is slang for a common fellow and coffee was considered a common man’s drink. As for java, when coffee became popular in ye olden times, the main source of the world’s coffee was the island of Java. 

This light-up reminder for my bookshelf was a gift. Even Elvis seems pleased about it. 

By all its names I love caffeine.  I love it hot or iced, sweet or not, straight or creamy.  I will finish this with a love note.  It’s no ode, but then what is these days?

Dear Coffee,

You know how I feel about you.  Though some think we should see less of each other, I treasure the hours we’ve spent together, talking on the radio, writing, running into each other mid-afternoons at random places. I may drink fewer cups per day but nothing can diminish the memories of our frequent over-indulgences.  See you here again next week.





This light-up reminder for my bookshelf was a gift. Even Elvis seems pleased about it.