Al Smith 1916-2001
Often called the dean of Gospel music, Dr. Al Smith, was a composer, Gospel soloist, song leader, lecturer, and an authority on church music, recording artist and music publisher. You may
have seen or heard him on national radio or television,
met him in a little white New England church where
he was giving a concert,
found him lecturing in a classroom to a group of college students, or leading a great audience of some 20,000 in singing at a conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. Wherever you
may have found Dr. Smith, you were sure to find a man who
enjoyed the work God called him to do... to
challenge hearts and lives with the "Singing Gospel" and
tell the interesting histories of the songs and their writers as only he
could tell them.
The fascinating life of Dr. Smith began on November 8, 1916 in a small Holland Dutch community in northern New Jersey where the news of the day reported that "Mr. and Mrs. Barney Smith" had become the proud parents of a baby boy who they named Alfred Barney Smith.
Alfred's early years were filled with loving care from a Father and Mother who loved the Lord. Carrie Smith was a stay at home mother who was able to spend her time encouraging and teaching her son in the three "R's", reading, writing, and arithmetic, to which she added the fourth "R", religion. At an early age Alfred learned the stories of David and Goliath, Daniel in the Lion's Den, Noah and the Ark and best of all the story of Jesus.
Though his mother had never received any extensive musical training she did love to sing. The first song she taught young Alfred was "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so", soon followed by "Jesus Bids Us Shine", and of course "America" and "Onward Christian Soldiers" for which he was given a little flag to wave as he marched around the room. These became his favorites.
Feeling that music would be one of his most important ingredients in the home, a Symphonic Model phonograph manufactured by Thomas Alva Edison was purchased.
With the phonograph came twenty-five records chosen by the company. At the time, little did the young parents realize how much their
included records would affect the future of thier young son.
Young Mother Smith had always loved the violin and in the
set were two records by a talented violinist named Albert Spaulding, a family member of the famous Spaulding family who manufactured athletic equipment. He played some of the beautiful compositions written by the world-renowned violinist, Fritz Kreisler, such songs as "The Old Refrain", "Liebesfreud", "Caprice Viennois", etc. The young father and mother were thrilled with the recordings and four-year-old Alfred in the months and years ahead would learn to love them too.
We thought these early and interesting details deserved more than just a casual mention.
It was these early decisions by his young parents that helped build the
foundation and set the direction Alfred would go in the future.
When Alfred was eight and a half years of age his mother began to see that her son was developing an interest in the violin. During this time he rediscovered the old Edison records of Albert Spaulding and began to play them often.
Observing this, she decided that it was time to start her son on the violin. She was fortunate in securing a Holland/Dutch immigrant named, Herman De Young, who proved to be a very good and honest teacher. Alfred made wonderful progress, in fact, when he reached the age of eleven his teacher advised his mother that he had taught his pupil all that he could and thought it was time for a new instructor. She found Roderick Meakle a special member of the faculty of the Juliard School of Music, who was also an associate of Leopold Auer, the world renown teacher of such violinists as Yoshua Heifitz, Isaac Stern, and Yehudi Menuhin. Under the teaching of Auer and Meakle, young Alfred made great progress, soon he was performing in concerts in various parts of the east including solos with various symphony orchestras.
At fourteen he was invited to a tent meeting in Hawthorne, New Jersey, where he accepted Christ as
Savior. He was thrilled upon hearing the one hundred and fifty people in the tent singing "Saved, Saved, Saved" and "One Day." That day he fell in love with Gospel
music It was a love that never left him.
In 1930, he began playing on radio broadcasts. The station was WKBO, located in Jersey City, New Jersey. The
program was called "the Old Fashioned Gospel Hour." A young fellow by the name of
George Beverly Shea was also on the broadcast. In 1933,
Al met Wendell P. Loveless, Director of WMBI, and the radio voice of Moody Bible Institute. In 1934, Alfred enrolled at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, at the invitation of Mr. Loveless. He became a member of the WMBI staff, which more or less prepared him for his future ministry of radio, recording, and publishing of Gospel music.
In 1937, Alfred B. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute and immediately began as Minister of Music at The Church of the Open Door in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pastored by Dr. Merrell T.
MacPherson. In the fall of 1938 the church loaned him to The Philadelphia School of the Bible - now The Philadelphia College of the
Bible. C.I. Scofield who gave us the Scofield Reference Bible was the founder. Smith was teamed with W. Douglas Roe, a young and successful Pastor in New Jersey. It was during that year that he wrote "For God So Loved the World" after visiting
the ninety-four year-old hymn writer George C. Stebbins.
He was beginning an adventure in inspiration that kept him occupied for over sixty years.
In 1939 he was offered a scholarship to Wheaton College
(which he gratefully accepted). His next three and half years
were busy ones. That first year he spent each weekend
in Chicago where he
was the choir director and song leader for a large church
pastored by Dr. Harry Hager.
In the fall of 1940 Billy Graham
was a student at Wheaton. Smith and Graham struck up an early friendship and decided
that they would work together as a team. Graham
did the preaching and Smith coordinated the music. As a result of their
ministry Singspirataion was born in 1941. God worked
in a mighty way...in Singspiration's first two months
of sales the entire printing of five thousand books
On Valentines Day of 1942 Al Smith
married Catherine Barron at the Wheaton Bible Church. The same year he
produced "Singspiration Two",
"Favorites", and choose Zondervan of Grand Rapids, Michigan to be his distributor.
In 1943 he graduated from Wheaton and became the associate pastor of North Baptist Church of Flint, Michigan. Before leaving Wheaton, Billy Graham,
Bev Shea, and Al presented their idea for Saturday night meetings in Chicago to Torrey Johnson, a well-known pastor and radio preacher in Chicago.
Much to their dismay, they were turned down.
However, God again showed Himself faithful as only a
year later "Youth for Christ" was started in Chicago. God had worked another
miracle in his life. After two years of a wonderful ministry in Flint, Smith
felt lead of the Lord to resign from North Baptist and move back to Wheaton to devote his time to Singspiration and Youth for Christ. For the next ten years his days and nights
were spent engaged in those two important ministries.
In 1947 his wife "Kay" became ill. After two operations and several months
at the Mayo Clinic, she was diagnosed as having Multiple
Sclerosis. During the next five years her illness made her more and more weak.
Finally in 1953 he decided to move back east. First to his hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey and then to Montrose, Pennsylvania. Montrose
became the new headquarters for Singspiration and a new Christian radio station, WPEL. In 1957, John W. Peterson, Norman Johnson and Harold DeCou join the Singspiration staff. New publications including cantatas begin to cover not only America but Canada, England and other parts of the English speaking world.
Though the ministry was growing by leaps and bounds,
Catherine's health continued to decline. In 1960 Catherine, after her long illness,
went to be with her Savior for whom for years she longed to see. With Al she left two children; Barbara and Gordon.
In 1963 Singspiration moved to Grand Rapids and
became part of Zondervan.
Al remained in Pennsylvania. Free from the pressure of Singspiration
he devoted most of his time to ministering in church
meetings. He also kept quite busy with the writing
and publishing of "Hymn Histories", and the hymnal "Living Hymns." "Living Hymns"
was published in 1972 and "Hymn Histories" in 1982. These books
were well received and Al Smith was back
doing the thing he liked best.
In 1966 he married Nancy Wilbur from the little community
of Heart Lake Pennsylvania. Al and Nancy
raised four children, Rebecca, David, Sarah, and Jonathan.
In 1985, to make sure that their children would get Christian teaching, they moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where they attended Bob Jones Academy. Here for the last fifteen years
of his life he was able to continue his publishing.
Though he battled cancer in his later years, Dr.
Smith was always going the extra mile to share the
love of God with others whether in his home church,
The Greenville Christian Fellowship, or in any of
the countless other churches across the nation
that he and Nancy have ministered in.
Dr. Alfred B. Smith went
home to be with the Lord on August 9, 2001 with
singing and praise to his Lord and Savior Jesus