October 19

The Gospel Songs of Hank Williams Sr. I: Jesus is Calling

Before Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, and Johnny Cash, there was Hank Williams Sr. writing songs on religion and Christianity.

Paul Ackerman, a scholar of poetry and songs wrote the following about Williams in a 1978 publication:

“A country songwriter without a highly developed sense of religious values is rare, so it is natural that Hank wrote many songs with spiritual themes.”

Also, Alan W. Bock, a newspaper columnist, and radio show host praised Williams’ gospel-singing endeavor with comments like:

“All of Hank William’s gospel songs were consistent with the fundamental Christian faith which was at the root of his life.”

and

“ (Williams) had a deep personal commitment to Christianity.”

These were motivations enough to feature and to have a closer look on the gospel songs he had written and co-written. Let us start with Jesus is Calling. Having simple wordings and arrangement, it is an easy song to sing –along with.


The line, “Jesus is calling, calling, calling night and day” was repeated twice in every stanza. Repetitions, in old literature, were a way to emphasize a point. If my music theory is right, Hanks and co-writer Charlie Monroe could have emulated the style in their writing of this song.

We could interpret the content then as Jesus’ inexhaustible and relentless invitation to everyone. He calls for us when we are “weary,” when it seems we have “lost our way,” when “we need a friend to go with us all the way,” when “we are lost in sin,” and when we are facing darkness. Whatever state we are in, Hank sings this to pep us up to pray and we will hear Jesus. He has always been calling for us. Question is, will we turn away?

As for Mr. Williams, all I could comment regarding his Jesus is Calling is, thank you for bringing us this song of hope.


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