The New York Times printed a fascinating report from William Grimes on May 27, “Something Happened on the Way to Bountiful: Everyone Sang Along.” Grimes reported on the popular, current Broadway Hit “The Trip to Bountiful,” written by Horton Foote.
Foote’s novel has had many different lives over the years, including a TV adaptation a few decades ago. Now it has come to life again on Broadway, with Cicely Tyson playing the lead role of an elderly woman who is determined to return to her childhood home of Bountiful before she dies.
In one of the scenes in the play, Tyson sits in a bus station, waiting to escape to the childhood memories she so desperately wants to revisit. As she sits on a bench, she begins singing to herself “Blessed Assurance” and when she does the audience, almost nightly, breaks out into song with her.
Grimes reports that this phenomenon is almost unheard of on Broadway, even in musicals where theater goers know the lyrics and tunes. People come to Broadway to be entertained, not to join in with the music. They just don’t do this.
But Tyson’s singing of “Blessed Assurance” inspires people to sing, and not because the actress invites people to do so. In fact, Tyson was so deeply into her character role that she had no idea the audience was accompanying her until somebody told her the fact.
One might expect people to break out for this song in Montgomery, Ala., or Memphis, Tenn., or almost anywhere in the South. But this is taking place in hard-bitten New York City, hardly known as a bastion of evangelical fervor and a place where one can find almost any religious faith beneath the sun.
If they’re breaking out in song in New York City, maybe society is not quite as depraved as we preachers and pundits sometimes like to describe. And maybe New York City isn’t quite as secular place as the stereotype goes.
William Grimes reported that author Horton Foote wrote the song into the script because his mother, who played piano at the Methodist church, often played the tune. Foote recalls his grandmother singing it to him and singing it himself as he grew up in church.
The article reminded me of the deep power of music, sacred and even secular. What we learn in church and teach our children in church from an early age will remain with them for life, and so we should choose our songs wisely. Parents should expose their children to fine music from their earliest days because the time will come when the child will begin selecting his/her own music.
Music and lyrics can carry us through the darkest times. The Apostle Paul and his companion Silas sang songs to God while they were in prison, having been flogged and severely beaten. Their captors could bruise their bodies, but not steal their spirit.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.