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Old-Time Southern States Missionary Songs

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 25, 2009

Mission President Charles A. Callis published a wonderful little booklet in 1921 to preserve the songs being written and sung by his elders. His Preface reads:

A few words relative to the origin and use of the “Old-Time Southern States Missionary Songs.” They were written by Elders during their missionary days in Dixie. In response to numerous requests these songs are now compiled and published. … It is not intended that they be sung at religious services in lieu of the “strong, stalwart hymns of the present dispensation” which are in our hymn books.

President Callis alludes to an appeal by B.H. Roberts, an earlier president of the same mission, in his 1907 work, Seventies’ Course in Theology, First Year:

Let the strong stalwart hymns of the present dispensation be practiced in the quorums, and not the namby, pamby, childish hymns that sometimes find their way into the repertoire of songs sung by our Elders in the mission field.

(HT to Dr. B. at Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord, whose 19 May 2008 post Singing and LDS Missionaries is, until this morning, the only place on the web where this quotation appears. I wouldn’t have been able to identify it otherwise.) (Update: Hmmm. Okay. Immediately after this was posted, David G.’s 20 March 2008 post “Hymns that Are Peculiarly Ours”: B.H. Roberts on Music at Juvenile Instructor suddenly joins Dr. B’s post in my Google search.)

Whether B.H. Roberts considered the song below, written by Charles Franklin Steele of Coalville, Utah, a “namby, pamby, childish hymn” or not, I know not. I kinda like it. Sung to the tune of the World War I popular song “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” * Elder Steele continues a tradition from the earliest days of Mormonism of setting Mormon words to folk tunes or current popular music to supply the need for music at meetings.

* See here for the original words and a couple of World War I-era performances.

Keep the Old Love Burning

We were called forth from the workshop,
We were summoned from the plow,
And the store and desk and factory
All miss our presence now.
With glad tidings of the Gospel,
Revealed from realms of light,
We have canvassed gladly all the day,
And sung this song at night.

Keep the old love burning and our mem’ries turning
Back to dear old Dixieland, we love her true;
Here we cry repentance, often hear our sentence,
Yet the gospel trump we sound, and it calls to you.

O’er the mountains of Virginia,
Alabama’s gulf-washed strands.
Mississippi’s swamps and branches,
And old Georgia’s fruitful lands.
From the hills of Carolina,
And Kentucky’s emerald fields,
To the balmy coasts of Florida,
This chorus proudly wheels:

Keep the old love burning and our mem’ries turning
Back to dear old Dixieland, we love her true;
Here we cry repentance, often hear our sentence,
Yet the gospel trump we sound, and it calls to you.

And Atlanta, queen of Dixie,
Crowning fair the Blue Ridge hills,
Is headquarters for the Mission,
And the cure for all our ills;
Tennessee takes up the chorus,
And the pure in heart obey,
Rejoicing in the wondrous light
That moves us all to pray.

Keep the old love burning and our mem’ries turning
Back to dear old Dixieland, we love her true;
Here we cry repentance, often hear our sentence,
Yet the gospel trump we sound, and it calls to you.

Hark! ye people of the southland,
To the Mormon Elder’s voice,
For Jehovah soon shall triumph
With the people of His choice.
Come, be born again and worship
With the favored Saints of God.
Throw off all your sinful shackles
And escape the tyrant’s rod.

Keep the old love burning and our mem’ries turning
Back to dear old Dixieland, we love her true;
Here we cry repentance, often hear our sentence,
Yet the gospel trump we sound, and it calls to you.

When our missions we’ve completed,
Our releases we have read,
Ate our last baked sweet potato,
Turnip greens and hot corn bread;
Then we’ll bid farewell to Dixie,
But we’ll long for her again,
And in Zion at reunions
We will sing this happy strain:

Keep the old love burning and our mem’ries turning
Back to dear old Dixieland, we love her true;
Here we cry repentance, often hear our sentence,
Yet the gospel trump we sound, and it calls to you.

Did you sing “homemade” songs as a missionary, or are you aware of mission-written songs being used in your area today?



18 Comments »

  1. I recorded the mission song when I visited Riga, Latvia:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6ymHWxvvM8

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — January 25, 2009 @ 9:37 am

  2. Great link, Michelle, thanks. I like how familiar they all seem to be with their song. They need to go one step further now and come up with one in the local language.

    My first mission president designated

    Give me some men who are stout-hearted men,
    Who will fight, for the right they adore,
    Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men,
    And I’ll soon give you ten thousand more.
    Shoulder to shoulder and bolder and bolder,
    They grow as they go to the fore…

    as our mission song and insisted we belt it out with enthusiasm. It seemed to take on a different connotation when we sisters were made to sing it along with the elders.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 25, 2009 @ 10:27 am

  3. Lol! True.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — January 25, 2009 @ 11:40 am

  4. Here is my mission song from 1978-80, sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle:

    Oh, we are New York Missionaries
    Full of spirit, full of pride.
    How we love it here in old New York
    Doing the work side by side.
    We’re determined not to falter,
    Firm and steadfast we will be.
    Ever onward, always upward,
    Till our goal is certain.
    We’re great!
    We say in all humility.

    Oh we are scattered through Manhattan,
    And in Brooklyn and the Bronx
    Up Long Island, Queens, and Rego Park
    Plainview and Terryville, too.
    Through Westchester and Poughkeepsie,
    Kitchewan and Bridgeport, too.
    Jersey City, Manahawkin, Morristown, and Caldwell.
    Newark!
    And beautiful Bermuda Isle.

    Yes, I’m a New York missionary
    And that’s what I’ll always be.
    Here I truly learned to serve the Lord
    For life and eternity.
    Jesus said Love one another,
    Serve with heart, might, mind, and strength.
    Be obedient, search the scriptures, bear your testimony.
    Have faith!
    And don’t forget to always pray.

    There was a Spanish translation, too. Partway through my mission, the Manahawkin Branch was transferred to the Philadelphia Mission, and “Manahawkin” was replaced with “and East Brunswick” in the mission song.

    Comment by Left Field — January 25, 2009 @ 1:35 pm

  5. I can’t make those words fit to Yankee Doodle, Left Field, but it’s a fun song with all those places worked into it. Thanks!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 25, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

  6. Ardis, I guess the tune is actually the chorus of The Yankee Doodle Boy, better known by these lyrics:

    I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,
    A Yankee Doodle, do or die;
    A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam’s,
    Born on the Fourth of July.
    I’ve got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart,
    She’s my Yankee Doodle joy.
    Yankee Doodle came to London, just to ride the ponies;
    I am the Yankee Doodle Boy.

    I think the tune may have been modified a bit in a place or two to fit the new lyrics.

    Comment by Left Field — January 25, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  7. Ah, now I can make the words fit!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 25, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

  8. Thanks for sharing. As a RM who served in, and now lives in the South, I appreciate the flavor of these lyrics.

    We also had a home-grown missionary song. Sung to the tune of the Marine Corp Hymn (?).

    “From the shores of Steinhatchee, to the waves of Mobile shore,

    We will fight the Savior’s battle with a heart that’s clean and pure….”

    Comment by L-d Sus — January 25, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

  9. See if you can dredge up more of that song, L-d Sus — it sounds interesting.

    I will post more of the songs from this booklet over time. There’s one that starts out in a similar way to yours, although sung to “Battle Hymn of the Republic”:

    From the broad Pacific Ocean
    To the Gulf of Mexico,
    To the Everglades of Florida
    The Mormon Elders go.

    Both are obvious tunes for young elders to parody, aren’t they? At least, they were easy to parody when we were in grade school singing about spit wads and teachers …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 25, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

  10. Wow! I had no idea about this (not really a surprise). The lyrics for “Keep the old Love Burning” are wonderful. Much better that the drivel we would make up.

    We made up some songs in Cantonese (sadly in English grammar) I wouldn’t even begin to translate. They made far more sense when I was there. I recall three. One sung to the tune “It’s a dead man’s party” (Oingo Boingo), one to the tune of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (John Denver),and one to “Silver Bells” (the Christmas carol). Silver Bells was a rendition of common rejection phrases we would hear when tracting. The John Denver song was about the isolation of serving in Macau Branch, which was at the time another country. The Oingo Boingo song had to do with how local (Hong Kong born) missionaries would socialize together.

    All three of them I could lump together in B.H. Roberts “namby, pamby, childish hymns.” I wonder if they are still being sung.

    Comment by BruceCrow — January 25, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

  11. Our mission president’s wife wrote a new countermelody to be sung with “Called to Serve” that incorporated themes and references from our mission proper. I’ll see if I can’t find the words, although I’m afraid it might belong to that apparently long list of “namby, pamby” hymns.

    Comment by Hunter — January 25, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  12. Oops. Did I just say that?

    Comment by Hunter — January 25, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  13. One of my favorite mission memories was when our retiring Japanese mission president announced at his last zone conference that he would now sing the Japan Okayama Mission Song. That was the first and last anyone ever heard of it and I think it is probably lost to history by now.

    Comment by DCL — January 25, 2009 @ 10:36 pm

  14. Here is the entire Florida Tallahassee Mission Song. As previously mentioned it is song to the Marine Corp Hymn. I learned it in the late 1990s. I would guess that it was written sometime in the 1980s?

    “From the shores of Steinhatchee, to the waves of Mobile shore, we will fight the Savior’s battle with a heart that’s clean and pure.

    We’ll expound the Gospel principals. We’ll search and watch and pray.

    We will teach and baptize multitudes as we serve from day-to-day.”

    There was a set of mildly funny and mildly irreverent actions that went with the words. Out of laziness I won’t try to describe them here.

    Comment by L-d Sus — January 26, 2009 @ 10:33 am

  15. We’ll use our own imagination, L-d Sus — thanks!

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — January 26, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  16. I almost wish we had had a mission song when I served in Japan. Almost. :)

    Comment by Ray — January 26, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  17. An elder I knew in my mission made up this song. There was more, but this is as much as I remember.

    Missionaries ain’t easy to love and they’re harder to hold
    They’d rather send you a letter, than diamonds or gold
    Long rides on bicycles and old wrinkled white shirts
    And each day begins before light.
    If he don’t get transferred, if he don’t go home, he’ll probably just tract all day.

    Mammas, please let your babies grow up to be missionaries
    Don’t let ‘em pick guitars and drive them old trucks
    Let ‘em read scriptures and Talmage and such
    Mammas, please let your babies grow up to be missionaries
    ‘Cause they’re never alone, and they’re always with someone they love

    Comment by Left Field — January 27, 2009 @ 8:39 pm

  18. Our mission song in Chile was probably a Neil Diamond song, since that was considered the outer edge of acceptable music by our mission president (almost everyone had a Neil Diamond cassette).

    Comment by queuno — January 31, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

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