This Week in AG History — February 10, 1957
By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on PE-News, 2 February 2017
Early Pentecostals commonly believed that two books were essential for revival: the Bible and the songbook. Fervent, spiritual singing has been a distinguishing characteristic of the Pentecostal movement from its inception, alongside powerful anointed preaching.
In the few first decades of the movement, Pentecostals used and promoted a great variety of songbooks published by non-Pentecostals, such as R. E. Winsett. However, at the 1920 General Council of the Assemblies of God, a recommendation was made that “in addition to the Sunday School literature … a Pentecostal Song Book, to be used universally throughout the Assemblies of God, be prepared and published.”
When Chairman J. W. Welch asked how many ministers would use a uniquely Pentecostal song collection. nearly all the ministers raised their hands. This recommendation was met with the 1924 release of Songs of Pentecostal Fellowship, the first Assemblies of God effort to produce a songbook that was distinctly Pentecostal.
Songs of Pentecostal Fellowship was followed by other songbooks, such as Spiritual Songs (1930), Songs of Praise (1935), and Assembly Songs (1948). These collections consisted mainly of gospel songs which were popular at camp meetings and revival services. They also featured songs by Assemblies of God authors and began to bring unity to the congregational singing of the churches.
The 1950s brought a “golden era” to Pentecostal music. Quartet conventions began featuring more Pentecostal groups such as the Blackwood Brothers, and the Assemblies of God established the Music Division of Gospel Publishing House. One of the Music Division’s first duties was to produce a songbook for congregational singing that would also encourage the use of orchestrations for instruments.
This new songbook, Melodies of Praise, made its debut 60 years ago in the Pentecostal Evangel, and it was formally introduced at the General Council later that year. It was the first Assemblies of God music publication to be released in both round note and shaped note editions, giving it a broader appeal for use in the southern singing schools. Melodies of Praise kept the gospel songs that were popular in churches but also incorporated more traditional hymns, such as Great Is Thy Faithfulness. Conversely, the compilers also sought to expose more church members to newer writers, such as Ira Stanphill, with the inclusion of songs like Mansion Over the Hilltop and Suppertime. It also incorporated a newer genre of church music with its introduction of choruses like Everybody Ought to Know, I Shall Not Be Moved, and Isn’t He Wonderful.
Another change the Music Division made was to release a companion edition with instrumental orchestrations. Most Pentecostals embraced the use of instruments in worship and, for the first time, church instrumentalists could participate in the accompaniment of song services with the aid of properly composed notation.
Melodies of Praise was well received and sold 77,410 copies in its first year. By 1986, almost 2 million copies had been sold. Even after it was replaced in 1969 by the popular Hymns of Glorious Praise, it continued to sell well. Pentecostals have long known the power and importance of good church singing. The songs of the church teach and affirm biblical truth, are a spiritual expression of our affection toward God, and a testimony of His work in our lives. They also serve as a unifying factor. With the publication of a denominational hymnal, an Assemblies of God church member from Kentucky could visit a church in California and instantly feel at home during the congregational singing.
As the 60th anniversary of the release of Melodies of Praise is celebrated, it is a time to recognize the Assemblies of God’s rich history of worshiping through song. Even as times have changed, and many churches have moved to electronic projection of songs rather than printed hymnals, the Assemblies of God is still known as a people who embrace the musical language of worship with fervent passion.
New copies of Melodies of Praise are available through My Healthy Church.
See the original advertisement for Melodies of Praise on page 10 of the Feb. 10, 1957, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
* “A Prophet’s Shattered Home” by J. E. Harris
* “What is Communism” by Frank W. Smith
*”First Graduating Class at Rhodesian Bible School” by H. B. Garlock
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.
Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200