I will be posting items about newly discovered writers along with my experiences in writing and presenting the information gleaned from both old and new. But today is a good time to write about one of my favorite women hymnwriters featured, wouldn’t you guess, near the beginning of my book. I like Doris Akers because she was gutsy, creative, and from Missouri. Her music is good too. An African American girl born in Brookfield in 1922 with nine siblings had to have a tough go of it. She made it. Opportunities were limited for her in Kirksville, where her family had moved, and that probably was the impetus for her move to Los Angeles when she was in her early twenties. She became enmeshed in the local Gospel community and led a mixed race choir for the Sky Pilot Church. Her reach went beyond Los Angeles. She composed a hymn jointly with Mahalia Jackson, which I may feature in a future post. She wrote over 300 hymns and was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001. The Smithsonian labeled her songs as “National Treasures” and she has sometimes been dubbed “Mrs. Gospel Music.”
Somehow, I have the current hymnals for the Methodist, Baptist and Disciples of Christ churches in my personal library. All three have “Sweet Sweet Spirit”. It’s widespread, even though of recent vintage compared to most familiar hymns. This became a favorite of mine back sometime in the 1980’s and it’s still a favorite. In 1962, she and her choir were to sing, as usual, for the church. And, as usual, they prayed before they went into the sanctuary to sing. On this particular day, the choir appeared to participate in a rather perfunctory prayer and started out. I can hear her say, “Whoa, you haven’t prayed hard or sincerely enough. Come back!” She no doubt was a compelling personality, and they came back. This time, they actually prayed, and with such fervor, that they wouldn’t stop. My imagination hears the congregation getting restless, perhaps clapping or stomping. Doris had to end the prayer. She told them, “I hate to leave this room and I know you hate to leave, but you know we do have to go to the service. But there is such a sweet, sweet spirit in this place.” The next morning, she composed her hymn. If you haven’t heard this hymn before, I suggest you google or search for it online and you may find several performances of it. Maybe you can better understand where Doris was coming from and going to in this song.