Hymn 134
(tune: Old Rugged Cross)

The song Old Rugged Cross is not as old as you might think… It was written in 1912 by evangelist George Bennard, so it is only free of copyright by a few years, unlike most of the other songs on my CD that are a hundred years or more old. Bennard was first a leader in the Salvation Army before leaving and becoming an evangelist in the Methodist Church. Unlike many hymns that were written over a relatively short period of time (remember Sweet By and By was finished in about 30 minutes), Old Rugged Cross was more of an evolution over time. Bennard wrote the first verse in Albion, Michigan in the fall of 1912. Later, while helping lead evangelical meetings in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin between December 1912 and January 1913, he completed the song to debut it on the last night of their meetings to a full house. The song was first published in 1915.

Old Rugged Cross became popular in 1952 when country singer Ernest Tubb made it the title song of his gospel album. Since then it has been performed and recorded by a virtual who’s who of country and pop music. It has been one of my favorites for as far back as I can remember. So, not surprisingly, I’ve played the guitar and flute solos featured on the CD for many years and it was an obvious choice for my premier CD.

The Cherokee lyrics are a call to “soldiers of the cross” to rise and follow Jesus. My arrangement uses verses 1 and 4, the latter of which states that Jesus will put a crown of stars on your head. The Cherokee arrangement follows the verse/chorus structure of the English lyrics. You will recognize the Cherokee “ha-li-lu-ya” repetition in the chorus is nearly identical to the English “hallelujah” and want to sing along to it. Feel free!

Listen to a sample of this song here.