The 6 Songs Billy Graham Picked for His Funeral

The evangelist planned his own ceremony. Experts analyze the music he chose.

“To God Be the Glory” and “Because He Lives” bookend the sweet spot of evangelical hymnody: Fanny Crosby’s song is a classic example of the gospel hymn genre that was synonymous with the 19th-century revivals that birthed evangelicalism, while Bill Gaither’s song is a 20th-century hit of the same lineage.

 

As Billy Graham is laid to rest in North Carolina today, the 2,000 invited funeral attendees will listen to—or sing together—six songs. Graham, who planned his own funeral [see CT’s live report], was the one who chose them.

In this, he seems to have taken the path of his longtime music director Cliff Barrows.

“I want a lot of music,” Barrows instructed Billy Graham Evangelistic Association choir director Tom Bledsoe before he died in 2016. “And I want the people to sing.”

Graham’s six picks:

  1. Until Then” (Stuart Hamblen, 1958), performed by musical artist Linda McCrary-Fisher
  2. All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” (Edward Perronet, 1779), congregational singing led by Bledsoe
  3. Above All” (Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche, 1999), performed by musical artist Michael W. Smith
  4. Because He Lives” (Bill and Gloria Gaither, 1970), performed by the Gaither Vocal Band
  5. To God Be the Glory” (Fanny Crosby/William Howard Doane, 1875), congregational singing led by Bledsoe
  6. Amazing Grace,” bagpipe escort led by Pipe Major William Boetticher

CT asked worship and hymnody experts what they thought of Graham’s choices:

John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of worship, theology, and congregational and ministry studies at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary:

Each of these songs echoes central themes in Graham’s ministry: All glory be to Jesus, whose death and resurrection set us free from sin. There is also a steady focus here on life with Jesus in heaven, a hallmark of evangelical piety, a strong emphasis on one’s own individual and personal affirmation of faith, and a warmth of affection.

Notably, this set of songs also embraces both older and newer expressions. “Above All” wasn’t written until Graham was 80. It’s not often that people select songs for their funeral that they didn’t know until late in life.

Mark Noll, research professor of history at Regent College; emeritus Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame:

This list looks like something from one of the hymn pamphlets prepared by Cliff Barrows for a typical Graham crusade from the 1950s or ’60s, with slight modifications tilted toward the contemporary. Such pamphlets, in turn, resembled the way that Ira Sankey prepared his “Sacred Songs and Solos” from his musical work for D. L. Moody.

Sankey and Barrows, both fond of traditional hymnody but also very much in tune with the times, followed similar paths. They put to use “classics” that could be sung with enthusiasm and gusto (e.g., “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”). They found contemporary hymns that their own promotion made into classics, as Sankey did for several of Fanny Crosy’s compositions (“To God Be the Glory”). They featured music popular among the constituencies that came out to hear Moody or Graham and went away warmed in their hearts (“Because He Lives,” “Above All”).

They made especially good use of songs tied to the ministry of the evangelist, as the BGEA did for so long with George Beverly Shea and “How Great Thou Art” (for the funeral, “Until Then,” which I am remembering as sung on one of the Graham movies of the 1950s, but maybe I’m imagining). And with “Amazing Grace,” they take a hymn well known to many people, but with the bagpipes presented it in a form that had become super common (because, in this case, of how often bagpipe renditions were used at memorials after 9/11).

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