“The Great Speckled Bird” is an instant crowd pleaser at the Opry though its recording only achieved moderate success.
Today, let’s find out a little about its original interpreter and well interpret the song as well.
In early 1937, Roy Acuff was a former baseball player turned struggling medicine-show singer when he heard an obscure musical group called The Black Shirts use many different lyrics with the same English folk tune as the Carter Family’s 1929 Top Ten pop hit “I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes.” Acuff was captured by both this new song’s message and symbolism.
He paid singer Charlie Swain a very hard-earned fifty cents to transcribe the song’s words. It was probably the best half-dollar Roy ever spent. Within weeks, this new song “The Great Speckled Bird” would become Acuff and His Crazy Tennesseans’ most requested number. He even sang it on his first Grand Ole Opry guest shot.
Knowing very little about “The Great Speckled Bird’s” origin, Roy began to dig into its history. Tracing the song’s roots revealed that the religiously-framed story had been composed by a minister named Guy Smith. Acuff also discovered that the song’s unusual lyrics had been inspired by the twelfth chapter, the ninth verse of the book of Jeremiah:
“Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour.”
By October 1937, the American Record Company’s William R. Calaway had also heard several different versions of “The Great Speckled Bird.” It was both his and ARC’s belief that this would be a great song in the hands of the right recording artist. Upon listening to Acuff’s version, Calaway knew he had found that perfect match. Roy would later remember that he wasn’t signed because of either his outstanding voice or great fiddle talent, instead, the record label used him because they believed that he could deliver “The Great Speckled Bird.”
Around the same time that Acuff recorded his first session, ARC was purchased by Columbia. During this period, the merged labels were unsure what to do with their hillbilly acts. Thus, Roy’s recording of “The Great Speckled Bird” was held in limbo. Finally, the company decided to record Acuff in early 1938 under its “Vocalion” banner.
By this time, Roy had written four additional verses to go with the song’s original six. In order to include all ten, the producer put the first five on side one and the other five on what was usually called the “B” side of the record. In retrospect, it was a very wise move. By the close of 1938, Acuff’s first release had climbed to the #10 position on the national pop music chart (Billboard’s country chart didn’t come into existence until 1944), and Roy had been invited to become a member of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry.
Roy Acuff’s place in country music was thus assured, and his next release “Wabash Cannonball” would make him “The King of Country Music.” We’ll look into this song next time, okay?
Going back, who or what is “The Great Speckled Bird?” It represents the body of Christ and the song speaks of the rapture of His Church before the Great Tribulation period. The interpretation as it was meant, is of a mobbing of the false churches against the true Church, the Bride of Christ.
The bird is a metaphor for being true to the beliefs you know are righteous, no matter what difficulties you may encounter as you try to do so. In Jeremiah’s day, the kingdom of Israel was destroyed. God delivered the people of Israel into the hands of their enemies, because they did not believe the message of the prophets and repent of their sins. “Great Speckled Bird”… can be found in Biblical reference of Jeremiah chapter 12– “Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour.”
Wow! It’s really interesting how much a message can be delivered through a song, is it not? So, I hope you all enjoyed today’s featured song “The Great Speckled Bird” and appreciate it better through its lyrics.