This is a collection of music videos created by Johnny Kee, some (but not all) of which feature songs from his CDs, or planned for release on a future CD. Each video listed here includes a little history behind the song, or an explanation of his interpretation of the song. These videos may also be viewed on the Johnny Kee YouTube channel at And if you should happen to visit his channel, please consider subscribing and giving a “thumbs up” to those you like. Thanks 

What Child Is This? (Christmas 2023)

In 1865, an insurance company manager in the UK, William Chatterton Dix, became deathly ill. While bedridden and suffering from depression, he was inspired to author several hymns. Some time that year, there is some dispute as to exactly when, but possibly at Christmas time, he also composed a poem called “The Manger Throne.” That poem was first published 6 years later, in 1871. It’s unclear who was responsible or when it was married with the old (1500s) tune of “Greensleeves”, but the result is the beloved Christmas hymn we call “What Child is This?”

It has been recorded by top tier singers of various genre from Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, Johnny Mathis, and Carrie Underwood to Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, Celtic Woman, Burl Ives, Glenn Campbell, Brad Paisley, Faith Hill, and many others.

Hard Times (Come Again No More)

This song is most frequently associated with the Great Depression (this video uses depression era photos), but was actually written by Stephen Foster and first published in 1854, 7 years before the Civil War. It became very popular for expressing the sentiments of those who suffered in that war.

In his 2019 8-part docuseries “Country Music”, noted filmmaker Ken Burns entitled episode 2, covering the period of 1933-1945, “Hard Times” with a mournful rendition of this song in the early part of the soundtrack. Elsewhere in the series, this song was proclaimed one of the most significant in American history.

The first audio recording of this song was a wax cylinder by the Edison Manufacturing Company in 1905. It has since been recorded by many, many artists, including Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, and many who are lesser known. 

Sinking of the Reuben James

This is a song that I learned back in the early ’60s that described events in the not so distant past at that time. It was just over 20 years since the beginning of World War II and many of our parents had served in that war, so it was personal. 

The air war over Great Britain, remembered as the “Battle of Britain,” became the first major defeat for the German war machine. So Hitler turned his attention to putting Great Britain under siege to starve her out. The German Navy included a huge fleet of U-boats (submarines) deployed to attack any merchant ships that carried supplies for Britain. For protection, merchant ships traveled in convoys. The U.S. Navy provided destroyer escorts for these convoys as far as Iceland, where the British Navy took over for the rest of the way to British ports.

The World War I destroyer USS Reuben James joined the ships on Atlantic convoy escort duty in March 1941. On October 23 she joined four other destroyers to escort Convoy HX156 leaving Newfoundland for England. On the morning of October 31 she was near Iceland when a German “wolfpack” (group of U-boats) appeared. The Reuben James positioned herself between the known position of the wolfpack and a munitions ship. The U-552 fired a torpedo that blew the entire bow off the Reuben James when it hit a magazine. The bow went down immediately, but the rest of the ship survived for 5 minutes before also sinking. Of the 144 on board, 100 perished and 44 were saved, all of whom were enlisted; no officer survived. The Reuben James became the first American warship sunk in combat in World War II, just five weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and our “official” entry into the war.

The song “The Sinking of the Reuben James” was written by singer/songwriter Woody Guthrie, first published in 1942. Guthrie is best known for the popular folk songs “This Land is Your Land” and “Pastures of Plenty” among the many he has written. For this song, he used the melody of the antebellum song “Wildwood Flower” and added his chorus.

“The Sinking of the Reuben James” has been recorded by many folk singers and groups. I learned it from the Kingston Trio (on their 1961 album Close Up) and the Chad Mitchell Trio (on their 1963 album Reflecting). 

Oh Come, Angel Band

This beautiful old gospel song was first a poem titled “My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast,” written by Jefferson Hascall in 1860. Because it was written in what is called “common metre,” it could be sung to many hymn tunes. The tune now universally associated with it was written by William Batchelder Bradbury, and was first published in 1862. I’m most familiar with versions by the Oak Ridge Boys and Johnny Cash.

This recording was taken from the live-stream video of the Pineda Presbyterian Church (Palm Shores, FL) service of October 23, 2022, featuring Johnny Kee as the soloist. 

Cherokee Hymn Book Hymn 87 
to tune of Just a Closer Walk With Thee

This song is generally regarded as the “Cherokee Amazing Grace,” because its lyrics are widely recognized when sung to the tune of “Amazing Grace”. In reality, the Cherokee lyrics have nothing to do with John Newton’s original lyrics. The Cherokee version tells of Christ’s second coming, how He spoke when He rose to tell us that. In the last 2 verses, it tells how the world will end and the good will live forever in heaven, in peace.

The origin of the English version of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” is somewhat uncertain. Personally, I like to think it is another of the great gospel songs that became immortal, rising from the oppressed souls suffering in slavery before the Civil War.

Back when I was part of the Bayou Brothers folk trio, back in Milwaukee in the early ’60s, we all sang and played together on almost all of our songs. But for longer gigs when time allowed, we each had a solo piece that we did – as was common with the big name trios of the day (e.g., the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary). “Just a Closer Walk With Thee”, in English of course, was my chosen solo. In those days, it wasn’t that unusual for a hymn or gospel song to make it to the pop or country charts, so my choice wasn’t out of place.

A few years ago, I discovered that the Cherokee lyrics of Hymn 87 fit this tune, and adopted it to my repertoire, as performed here at the 2021 Native Rhythms Festival. It also appears on my “Echoes from the Trail” CD.

Joshua (Fought the Battle of Jericho)

The story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho comes from the old testament book of Joshua (Joshua 6:15-21), providing the story line for this old gospel song. This song is believed to date to southern plantations in the early 19th century, although a precise location or date of creation is impossible to determine. The earliest publication of this song was probably in 1882 in a book Jubilee Songs by M.G. Slayton and in A Collection of Revival Hymns and Plantation Melodies by Marshall W. Taylor. Hidden in many of these old gospel songs was a subliminal message of hope for those enslaved. In this song, it was a message that faith in the Lord can bring down walls.

For me to tell a more complete story, I created a few original verses that I added to those commonly sung. I did this to put the battle in context. The Bible describes the battle that brought the city walls down followed a weeklong siege that doesn’t appear in common versions of the song. I also felt the need to summarize the moral of the story.

BTW, there’s a lot of flute playing in my interpretation of this song.

Were You There?

This is another of those old spirituals believed to have originated from those enslaved on antebellum plantations in the south. Forbidden by law to be taught to read and write, but still forced to adopt Christianity, many bible stories were told in music. This particular song tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion. It first appeared in print in 1899 in William Eleazar Barton’s Old Plantation Hymns. This song has been recorded by a wide range of performers; from large choirs to country singers.

All versions that I know of have a very simple structure. The verses consist of a single line repeated 3 times and have 3 verses that tell of (1) nailing Christ to the cross, (2) placing Him in the tomb, and (3) rising from the dead. First I wanted to tell more of the story, including all that happened in the week preceding the crucifixion. Then I decided to add more information to each of the verses, so there are two or three different lines in each. That also applies to the three most common verses. However, I do the first verse in its traditional form. So this is my interpretation of this old song to tell a more complete story.

Cherokee Hymn Book Hymn 17 
to tune of What a Friend We Have in Jesus

In 1855, while he was in Canada, the preacher Joseph M. Scriven wrote the English lyrics to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as a poem for his mother, who was living in Ireland. Scriven first published the poem anonymously, but was given credit for it in the 1880s. Charles Crozat Converse, an American attorney who also worked as a composer of church songs, gave the poem its familiar tune in 1868.

The Cherokee lyrics (from the Cherokee Hymn Book) describe a song of love and praise. The song starts out identifying the object of our adoration, “Yi ho wa” (Jehovah). Throughout the song you hear, “e di lv quo de sdi i” – Let us honor him. And each verse and chorus end with the line, “e di ge yu se sdi i” – Let us love Him. Listen to this song a few times and you’ll find yourself singing along with these lines.

I created this video as “special music” used during one of the broadcast services while our church was locked down during the 2021 COVID crisis.

The Great Galveston Storm

I first became aware of the “Great Galveston Storm” from the Chad Mitchell Trio song “Mighty Day” on their ’61 album, Mighty Day on Campus. After researching this storm, in 2011 I wrote a song to tell the story from a different perspective. With work on my Storyteller CD in 2020, I reworked the song some for inclusion on that album, the track presented here. 

In 1900, Galveston, Texas was an important port city, financial center, and year-round vacation destination. It was situated on an island off the Texas Gulf Coast, with a rail trestle connecting it to the mainland.

The Galveston Daily News of Tuesday, September 4th reported that a tropical disturbance was “moving westward over western Cuba” and was expected to turn north with high winds over the eastern Gulf and Florida coast. The storm strengthened some and moved northward passing near Key West and then disappeared into the Gulf. In Galveston, on Saturday morning, September 8th, signs of an approaching storm began to appear, but nothing unusual. Rain began pouring by mid-morning. By 3PM, telegraph and phone lines to the mainland were down. The high point on the island was under 9 ft, but the storm surge was over 12 ft. In the end, between 6,000 and 12,000 people died, with the “official” count set at 8,000.

There are many photos archived from the aftermath of the storm, some I’ve used here to try to capture the abject destruction and death. This is a video I had envisioned for many years, long before I began making videos.

Cherokee Hymn Book Hymn 39 
to tune of I’ll Fly Away

I’ll Fly Away was written in 1929 by Albert E. Brumley and published in 1932. It has been called the most recorded gospel song ever, and the list of singers and groups who have recorded it is long and impressive. In interviews, Brumley has told how he was inspired to write this song… He said the idea came to him while he was picking cotton in Rock Island, Oklahoma and humming an old ballad that had the line, “If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly,” It occurred to him that he could use this concept for a gospel style song. It took 3 years for him to flesh out the song.

As with all the songs on my Echoes From the Trail CD, the Cherokee lyrics are completely independent of Brumley’s original English version. The Cherokee translates as a call to Jesus, starting out calling all with heavy burdens to listen to Jesus, Who has mercy on them. In the end it urgently says that Jesus alone can help sinners, including you.

Silent Night (Christmas 2020)

2020 was a troubling year for many people, and was especially so as we approached Christmas. I made this video in the hopes that its message will bring some peace to those who watch it.

This timeless classic tune was composed in Austria in 1818 by Franz Gruber for lyrics written by Father Joseph Mohr (“Stille Nacht”) in 1816. Father Mohr took the lyrics to Gruber, a schoolmaster and organist, and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the 1818 Christmas Eve mass. I recorded this as it was originally intended with only guitar accompaniment. 

The lyrics were translated into English in 1859 by Episcopalian priest John Freeman Young in New York City. Since then, it has been translated into about 140 languages.

Midnight Special

“Midnight Special” may be the greatest mosaic of lyrics from many traditional folk songs. For example, the first verse lyrics “Get up in the mornin’ when the ding dong rings” may come from a song that appeared in print in 1905. Reference to a train and a light didn’t show up until later, appearing in print in a 1923 issue of Adventure magazine. Carl Sandburg published two separate versions of “Midnight Special” in the 1927 American Songbag. The first commercial recording was made in 1926 as “Pistol Pete’s Midnight Special”.

Even though there were several earlier recordings, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s version recorded at Angola Prison in 1934 gave the song widespread popularity. Ledbetter added several verses that referred to a Houston jailbreak. This recording was captured by John and Alan Lomax, collectors of authentic folk songs at their source, who attributed the song to Ledbetter. Even though that has been debunked, some collections still show Ledbetter as the song’s creator.

Johnny Kee and good friend, Ken Holt, were featured performers at the 2017 Native Rhythms Festival at the amphitheater in Wickham Park, Melbourne, Florida, and performed this song as depicted in this video. There is a studio version of this song on my 2020 Johnny Kee, Storyteller CD.