2022 Good Friday Service Outline

Here’s a Good Friday Service Script based around Matthew 27 that be used either live or online. This service is around 28-30 minutes long and has room for the addition of songs and a more traditional sermon. I hope you find it helpful.

Welcome – Host

Worship Song – Oh The Cross

Narrator: I recently spoke with a man who wanted to join our church. He said, “I like the sermons, the music, the people. The location is perfect for me and I just became a part of a friendly life group.” “Then, what’s holding you back,” I asked. “There is one problem,” he replied. “I just don’t know what to do with Jesus. I believe in God, but it seems to me that Jesus is an entirely different subject. What should I do?”

That statement, “I just don’t know what to do with Jesus” has plagued different people for thousands of years. Jesus changes things. Mention God or angels or spirituality and people will smile and nod politely. Mention the name of Jesus and people might cry tears of joy or shout curses in anger. People throughout history have often thought, “I just don’t know what to do with Jesus.” 

The Roman governor Pilate was one of those people.

Jesus Before Pilate Section

(Readers stand in a line. They can either memorize their lines, read from scripts or have cameras focus on them as they read from teleprompters.) 

Reader One: After His arrest, Jesus stood before Pilate, the Roman governor. 

Reader Two: (speaks as if he is Pilate) Are you the king of the Jews?

Reader Three: (speaks as if he is Jesus) You have said it.

Reader Four: But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. 

Reader Two: Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?

Reader One: But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise. Now it was Pilate’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd-anyone they wanted. 

Reader Four: This year there was a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked, 

Reader Two: Which do you want me to release – Barabbas, or Jesus the Messiah?

Reader Four: (agitated) Just then, Pilate’s wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”

Reader One: Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. Pilate asked again, 

Reader Two: Which of these two do you want me to release to you?

Readers One, Three and Four: (shouting)  Barabbas!

Reader Two: Then what should I do with Jesus?

Readers One, Three and Four: (shouting) Crucify him!

Reader Two: Why? What crime has he committed?

Readers One, Three and Four: (Shouting) Crucify him! 

Reader One: Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd. 

(show b-roll of Pilate washing his hands in a bowl)

Reader Two: I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!

Readers One, Three and Four: We’ll take the responsibility for his death.

Reader One: So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

(show b-roll of Jesus being tied down for the flogging)

Transition 1

Narrator: (Washes his own hands in a basin of water) Pilate washed his hands in front of the people because he wanted to claim personal innocence regarding the death of Jesus. Whether he did this for his personal convictions or to appease his wife, he sentenced “the king of the Jews” to be crucified because he didn’t know what to do with this Jesus. The soldiers, on the other hand, seemed to have no question about what to do with Jesus. They tied Jesus to a whipping post, flogged him with a lead tipped whip, and then began to mock him.

The Soldiers Mock Jesus Section

Reader One: Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. 

Reader Two: They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. 

Reader Three: Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, 

All: (kneel in a mocking fashion and cry out in unison) “Hail! King of the Jews!” 

Reader Four: And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. 

When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. 

All: Then they led him away to be crucified.

Transition 2

Narrator: (Holding a small cross in his hands) It was then that our bleeding, beaten Savior was forced to carry the cross upon which he would be crucified to the place of his own crucifixion. This was done to humiliate him and to wear him down even more. The cross could have been 3 to 4 meters high with a crossbeam another two meters wide. Depending on the thickness of the beams, it could have easily weighed between 170 and 300 lbs. The winding route Jesus carried his cross would have been from the former Antonia Fortress to what is now the Church of Holy Sepulchre. That’s a distance of about 600 meters or just over one third of a mile. 

The Crucifixion Section

(Crucifixion b-roll throughout)

Reader Four: Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means the ‘place of the skull.) 

Reader Three: After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. 

Reader One: A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: 

All: (Slightly Louder) This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.

Reader Four: Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. The people passing by shouted abusing and vulgar statements, shaking their heads in mockery. 

Readers One: Look at you now!

Reader Two: You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.

Reader Two: Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

Reader Four: The leading priests, the teachers of the religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. 

Reader Two: “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! 

Reader Three: So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! 

Reader One: He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, “I am the Son of God.” 

Reader Three: Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way. 

Transition 3

Narrator: (holding long nails in his hands) This time must have been a very confusing time. For Jesus, he had found his friends sleeping while anxiety blood tears stained the ground around him. Most had abandoned him upon his arrest. Peter had denied him. The crowds, some of whom he had taught and fed, cried out for his crucifixion. Then He was mercilessly crucified and even those being crucified with him, those dealing with the same pain as He, were mocking and ridiculing Him. They all seemed to know what to do with Jesus. And now, God the Father knew what to do as well. He was going to allow His only Son to die. 

The Death of Jesus

(Cross b-roll throughout) 

Reader One: (slowly, determined) At noon, darkness fell across the whole land. At three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, 

Reader Three: (shouting as if Jesus on the cross) Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Reader Two: Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. 

Reader One: One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. 

Reader Four: But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”

Reader Three: Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. 

Reader Four: At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 

Reader One: The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. 

Reader Two: The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. 

Reader Three: They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.

Reader Four: The Roman officer and the soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, 

Reader One: (emphasis on man) Surely this man was the Son of God!

Readers One and Two: (emphasis on was)  Surely this man was the Son of God!

All: (emphasis on Son of God)  Surely this man was the Son of God!

Song – King of Kings Song second verse and chorus

Sermon and Decision Time (time will vary based off of comments and decision time from pastor)

Pastor: What will you do with this Jesus? That does seem to be the question, doesn’t it? Will you abandon him like many of his disciples? Will you deny him like Peter? Will you condemn him like the Pharisees? Will you wash your hands of him like Pilate? Will you mock him like the soldiers? Or Will you dare to trust Him….? (continue to present Gospel and promise of resurrection)

Song Reprisal – Finish out King of Kings Song

Closing/Offering – Host

*Image courtesy of Sincerely Media and Unsplash

“Because He Lives,” the worship song inspired by a blade of grass.

Bill and Gloria Gaither met when they both began teaching high school In Alexandria, Indiana. Bill had a background in Gospel music and Gloria had been an English major in college. They began meeting to share ideas about songs, started dating, and were married in 1962. It wasn’t long before their careers shifted from teaching to music full-time.

However, the 1960’s were chaotic and the major shifts in morals and values was upsetting to the Gaithers. They even began to wonder if God had decided to turn the world over to its own devices. 1969 was a particularly bleak season for Bill and Gloria. The “God is Dead” philosophy was spreading across the nation, Indiana experienced an extremely hard winter, Bill was struck with a severe case of mononucleosis, and Gloria experienced some painful false accusations from within her church family. In the midst of this pain and suffering, Gloria learned that she was pregnant. Even though, they were happy, they both wondered if it was wise to bring an innocent baby into such a hard world.

In early spring of that same year, Bill’s father George was visiting Bill and Gloria and called their attention to a small blade of grass that had pushed through the layers of dirt, rock, and concrete to reach the sunlight. That blade of grass had such a strong will to live that it inspired Gloria to write a song expressing the hope that was shaped by the resurrection of Jesus. She wrote these words:

God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus; He came to love, heal, and forgive. He lived and died to buy my pardon; An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives…

How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride and joy he gives; But greater still, the calm assurance: This child can face uncertain days because He lives...

And then one day, I’ll cross that river. I’ll fight life’s final war with pain, But then as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives...

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, He holds the future. And life is worth the living just because He lives.

Click here to check out a cool version of the song from Crowder, Johnnyswim, and Tori Kelly recorded for the Easter Service of Passion City Church. 

*Photo courtesy of Bruno Martins and Unsplash

Jesus Loves Me, the Hymn Written for a Novel

Jesus Loves Me, the hymn written for a novel. 

One of the first songs I learned as a child was Jesus Loves Me. I remember singing it with my mother in the car, in Sunday School, and in the worship service with my family. Years before I surrendered my life to the Lord, this song planted within me the truth that Jesus loved me. I never really thought much about the origin of the song until I came across it in William J. Reynold’s Companion to the Baptist Hymnal (1976).

Anna and Susan Warner grew up as sisters In New York near West Point Military Academy where they were known for leading student Bible studies. The sisters lived with their father, a lawyer, until his death. Afterward, they supported themselves through their writing. While Anna saw some success in writing novels and poetry collections, Susan became a best-selling novelist. In 1860, Anna contributed a hymn used in Susan’s novel Say and Seal. In the story, a little boy named Johnny Fax becomes ill to the point of death. Mr. John Linden, his Sunday school teacher, holds little Johnny in his arms, rocks him back and forth, and eventually sings the words to this new hymn:

Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so; 

Little ones to Him belong.

They are weak, but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me! 

Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.

Two years after its publication in Say and Seal, William Bradbury composed a simple melody and refrain for the hymn and published it once again in Golden Shower of Sunday School Melodies. William J. Reynolds, in his history of the song, shares that the tune CHINA was given to the tune because missionaries serving there reported that it was a favorite of Chinese children.
Jesus Loves Me grew in popularity and became a song loved by millions of children and adults in churches and seminaries around the world. It is reported that after giving a series of lectures, renowned Swiss theologian Karl Barth was asked to summarize his doctrine in a single sentence. He replied: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I don’t know much about Karl Barth and his teachings, but I must applaud him for his answer.

That is theology at its finest.

Click here to hear Whitney Houston sing “Jesus Loves Me.”

*Image Courtesy of Scott Rodgers and Unsplash

I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day – The Christmas Carol Inspired by Grief

In July of 1861, Fannie Elizabeth Appleton, the wife of the famed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, tragically died. She had been sealing envelopes with hot wax which sparked a flame which caught her dress on fire. Henry tried to extinguish the flames, first with a rug and then with his own body, but Fannie had already suffered severe burns. She died the next morning. Henry was also badly burned, so much that he was unable to attend his wife’s funeral. Because of his burns, he stopped shaving and grew a beard that became his trademark. Henry’s grief was so overwhelming that he believed he was going to end up in an asylum.

Two years later, in March of 1863, Henry’s 18 year old son Charles Appleton Longfellow secretly boarded a train in Cambridge, Massachusetts that was bound for Washington D.C. He enlisted in the Union Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry.

On December 1st of that same year, Henry was dining alone at his home when he received a telegram with the news that his son Charles had been severely wounded four days earlier in the battle of the Mine Run Campaign. Charley, as he was called, had been shot through the left shoulder. He avoided paralysis by less than an inch. Henry and his Charley’s younger brother Ernest traveled to Washington D.C. where they learned that, although serious, Charley’s wounds were not as serious as they had initially been told.

Three weeks later, on Christmas Day, 1863, Henry was overwhelmed by loss. He was a 57 year old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly killed or paralyzed as he fought for a country that was at war with itself. To capture the way he felt, Henry wrote a poem he titled I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. That day, he had heard the Christmas bells ringing in Cambridge and he had listened as people sang “peace on earth.” However, the world he observed was filled with injustice and violence that mocked the truthfulness of the optimistic outlook. The theme continues throughout the poem, finally leading the listener to a settlement of confident hope that even in the midst of bleak despair, that God is alive and faithful and that His righteousness will prevail.

Click here to hear an interesting arrangement of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Charlene Closshey.

*Image courtesy of Aaron Burden and Unsplash

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus – the Christmas Carol Crafted from a Prayer

It was 1744 and Charles Wesley was frustrated. The impoverished world around him was filled with homeless people, orphaned children, and the Scroogelike indifference of Christians to the suffering of the lower class. Looking for inspiration, he searched the scriptures and came across the following words: “And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will find this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:7). 

After reading the scripture, Wesley wrote the following prayer: “Born Your people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now Your gracious kingdom bring.” Wesley soon adapted the prayer into a hymn he titled Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus which expressed a hope for the newborn Christ to eventually come again and set all things right. He published it in his own Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord hymnal.

Over a century later, the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon based around Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. Spurgeon stated that he did so to “Illustrate the point that very few are ‘born king’ and that Jesus was the only one who had been born king without being a prince.” The sermon popularized the song and was most likely the reason it made its way into the hymnals of multiple denominations. 

Click here to hear Meredith Andrews sing Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.

*Image courtesy of Omar Lopez and Unsplash

**This post and others like it can be found at www.johnjfrady.com

The 12 Days of Christmas – The Christmas Song with Surprising Symbolism

The 12 Days of Christmas is a fun song that people of all ages sing at Christmastime. Until recently, I thought it was simply about a lucky guy whose true love gave him lots of presents. However, there was a time when The 12 Days of Christmas was used as an undercover teaching tool for children in the Catholic Church.

In the 16th century, the Church of England was the only legal church in England. If Catholics were going to disciple their children in their faith and practice, they had to do so in secret. Even their lessons of doctrine and faith had to be reproduced by secret code. Even though The 12 Days of Christmas appears to be without purpose, it actually taught important doctrinal lessons. The 12 days marked the time between Christmas Day and Epiphany, when it is celebrated that the wise men visited Jesus in Bethlehem. The “true love” mentioned in the song is not speaking of a romantic love interest, but of the Lord’s love for each of us. Each day also has an undercover spiritual meaning. I’ll list them below as succinctly as possible:

1st Day of Christmas – The partridge in a pear tree represents Jesus, who gave his life for us, much as a mother partridge would do for her chicks. The pear tree also symbolizes the cross. 

2nd Day of Christmas – The two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Doves are symbols of peace and truth as the Bible conveys.

3rd Day of Christmas – The three French hens represent the gold, frankincense, and myrrh presented to Jesus by the wise men. In the olden days, if a meal served three French hens, it was fit for a king. 

4th Day of Christmas – The four calling birds represent the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) which cry out the story of Jesus for all to hear.

5th Day of Christmas – The five golden rings represent the five Old Testament books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy which showed not only the fall of man but gave hope that a Savior would come and offer a pathway to salvation.

6th Day of Christmas – The six geese a-laying represent the six days of Creation. The eggs are a symbol of new life.

7th Day of Christmas – The Seven swans a-swimming represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in Romans 12:6-8 (Prophecy, Service, Teaching, Encouragement, Giving, Leadership, and Mercy). Children were often taught that when you follow the ways of the Lord, the gifts of the spirit moved in your life as easily as a swan swam on the water.

8th Day of Christmas – The Eight maids a-milking represent the common folk Jesus came to save who are follow the eight beatitudes (the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker, and the righteous.)

9th Day of Christmas – The Nine ladies dancing represent the nine fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Dancing represented the joy of serving Christ.

10th Day of Christmas – The ten lords a-leaping represent the 10 Commandments because a lord was supposed to be just and noble.  

11th Day of Christmas – The eleven pipers piping represent the 12 Disciples of Jesus minus Judas who fell away. They led the way in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

12th Day of Christmas – The twelve drummers drumming represent the dozen elements found in the Apostles’ Creed (You can read it here.) The drum symbolized the daily practice and rhythm of spiritual disciplines. 

Fortunately, the time finally came in history when Catholicism was no longer a crime in England. However, by the time that happened, most people didn’t understand the undercover meanings behind the days and the gifts. Therefore, the song is most often thought of as a whimsical and fun Christmas song.

Click here to hear one of my favorite renditions of the 12 Days of Christmas by John Denver and the Muppets.

*Image courtesy of Chris Sowder and Unsplash.

**This post and others like it can be found at www.johnjfrady.com 

Angels We Have Heard On High

Anonymous. That sums up the lyricist and composer of the Christmas carol Angels We Have Heard on High. As much as I love the carol, especially listening to people pronounce “in excelsis deo” in different ways, I was about to pass on learning the story behind the song. What kind of story could there be behind an anonymous song anyway? Well, there is one, and even though it’s different, it is interesting. 

Angels We Have Heard On High is actually the English translation of Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes. The lyrics of the original French song tell the story of the birth of Jesus and an angel choir that shared the good news of His birth with the shepherds who were watching o’er their flocks by night. 

The biblical shepherds from the biblical account of Jesus’ birth must have struck a chord with the Medieval shepherds of southern France. According to legend, the shepherds in the hills of southern France had a Christmas Eve custom of calling out to one another by singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” The tune they sang as they called out was from a Medieval Latin chorale, but it is believed to have adapted into the chorus of the Angels We Have Heard On High carol we still sing today. 

The French of that southern region also have a tradition known as the creche where handmade nativity scenes are placed in homes, town squares, parks, and other public areas. The nativity characters are clay figures called santons. Often, families within communities work diligently to craft the nativity scene figures. In some areas, villagers themselves even dress as shepherds, forming a procession to the church building where the nativity scenes are assembled, the characters are placed, and the people sing Christmas carols, always being careful to include the French favorite Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes or Angels We Have Heard On High.

Not too shabby for an anonymous carol. 

Click here to hear a great version of Angels We Have Heard On High by Pentatonix.

*Image courtesy of Gritte and Unsplash

**This post and others like it can be found at www.johnjfrady.com 

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear – the Christmas Carol Inspired by Scripture

It was 1849 in Wayland, Massachusetts. Dr. Edmund Sears, a Unitarian minister, was preparing his Christmas Eve sermon. Despite his denominational affiliation, Sears believed Jesus was the Son of God and died on a cross for the sins of the world. He also believed that Christians should reach out of the lost, the helpless, and the poor. Sears found himself depressed because of the slavery debate and the level of poverty within his own community and across the nation. This was all heavy on his mind as he wrote his sermon. He wondered how he could write about the Light of the world when the world seemed so very dark.

As Sears struggled with his sermon, he opened his Bible to Luke 2:8-11 and read these words: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

After contemplating that moment in time, Sears wrote a five verse poem titled It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. That Christmas Eve, he ended his sermon with the words of that poem. Later, a music critic named Richard Willis found the poem, thought that it needed to be a Christmas carol, and added the tune we know and love today. A few traveling musical groups picked the song up, but it didn’t grow in popularity until the 20th century when the carol was added to several denominational hymnals. Now, it is considered one of the deepest and theologically rich carols Christians sing today.

Click here to hear Josh Groban sing It Came Upon The Midnight Clear

*Image courtesy of Adrian Dascal and Unsplash

**This post and others like it can be found at www.johnjfrady.com

Welcome To Our World – The Christmas Song That’s Becoming A Modern Classic

I never paid much attention to the song Welcome To Our World before this year. However, after I began posting about Christmas Carols, a friend told me it was her favorite Christmas song and suggested I give it a listen. So, I played it and truly paid attention to the song that evening. At first, I was intrigued. Soon after, I was slightly emotional.

Chris Rice first published Welcome To Our World in 1995. It is contemporary in style but feels like a traditional hymn. The song has an O Come, O Come Emmanuel feel because it speaks from a first century perspective. However, the part that stirs me is where the song shows Jesus’ preparation for death so soon after at his birth:

“Fragile fingers sent to heal us, Tender brow prepared for thorns,

Tiny heart whose blood will save us, Unto us is born. Unto us is born.

Dang.

Of his song, Chris Rice shared the following thoughts in a CCM interview: “Welcome to Our World deals with the reality that God invaded our planet and became one of us, which is just astounding to me. I wrote about God coming to our world in a naive way, knowing that it’s not ours anyway. It’s God’s. The thoughts that went through my head were about how tiny Jesus was and how He came into the world just like the rest of us. How much did Jesus know at that point? When Jesus was human flesh, was He aware at all that He was really God, or did He just accept all the limitations and start from scratch? I thought of that progression, and about the fact that He took on what He did so we would be able to find God and be found by God.” 

I must say, Welcome To Our World is now one of my favorite Christmas songs. If you’ve never heard the song, why not click on the link below and listen to it now? Let me know what you think. 

Click here to hear Chris Rice sing Welcome to Our World. 

*Image courtesy of Rod Long and Unsplash

**This post and others like it can be found at www.johnjfrady.com

I Wonder As I Wander – The Christmas Folk Song Discovered By Chance

The Christmas folk song, I Wonder As I Wander, was very aptly named. It is attributed to John Jacob Niles who wandered through the towns and country roads of the Appalachian mountains in search of original folk songs. The library of work Niles uncovered is perhaps one of the most important in all of music history. I Wonder As I Wander may be the best testimony of his years of hard work.

One cold December day, John Jacob Niles visited the town of Murphy, North Carolina. As Niles watched and listened, he could hear the snow crunching under the feet of children who peered into shops displaying a few small toys. As he glanced up and down the street, he saw a young blond girl with a dirty face sitting by herself on a bench. Unaware that Niles was listening, the girl was singing a beautiful song with an intriguing melody and lyrics. 

When the little girl finished singing, Niles introduced himself and learned that her name was Annie Morgan. She said she learned the song from her mother who had learned it from her grandmother. The girl’s family were poor revivalists and were camping in the town square, cooking their food in the open and hanging their wash from the monuments. Learning that her family was about to be evicted from their makeshift home, Niles paid Annie 25 cents to sing him the song again, which she did as Niles furiously transcribed words and music on paper. Before the day was over, she had sung the song for Niles eight times. Annie left with two dollars in her pocket which probably meant a lot to her family that day. 

John Jacob Niles recognized the beautiful simplicity of the song, which to him combined the passion of the American spiritual with the irony of the Irish ballad. Niles published and recorded I Wonder As I Wander in the years before World War II. People everywhere were awed by his chance meeting with the little girl and the discovery of the song. Even though the song contributed to his own success, Niles was always careful to point out that his version and performance could never compare with Annie Morgan’s original performance as she sat alone on a bench in the snow of the North Carolina mountains.

Click here to hear Vanessa Williams sing I Wonder as I Wander

*Image courtesy of Kostian Li and Unsplash

**This post and others like it can be found at www.johnjfrady.com