Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

A Baptist Songsmith: Baylus Benjamin McKinney

 Two decades ago, we began a trip to Tennessee to deliver some valuables left to my daughter by her late mom, Linda, and two grandmothers. The stuff had moved from the former Irvington parsonage to a garage, to rented storage, then back to Irvington in our converted horse barn.

Now with another loved one gone to their Eternal Reward, I was moving my office back into our home, back into what had been Grandma Rosie’s room.

Across the years, I have moved my office quite a bit. Over the last two-plus decades, every time I move I have purposefully reduced my collection of stuff. Thus my Thanksgiving week began with a trek to deposit stuff into the hands of my daughter and her three youngsters. Whatever do you suppose they will do with a truckload of things once so valuable?

On the return trip, I stopped to load into my truck two granddaughters and our first great-grandchild, all of who were coming for Thanksgiving at their grandma Hazel’s. “Over the hills and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go…”

Many a day starts and ends with a song, whether I am on a trip or sitting in my study, in whatsoever location it rests at the time. On my way home from church one Sunday I began to hum the hymn “Glorious Is Thy Name,” written by B. B. McKinney. I learned a long time ago that when God puts a place, person or a song on my heart that I must deal with it. So, let me invite you to join me in a musical harvest:

“Blessed Savior, we adore Thee, we Thy love and grace proclaim; Thou art mighty, Thou art holy, Glorious is Thy matchless name! Great Redeemer, Lord and Master, light of all eternal days; let the saints of every nation sing Thy just and endless praise! From the throne of heaven’s glory, to the cross of sin and shame, Thou didst come to die a ransom, guilty sinners to reclaim! Come, O Come, immortal Savior, come and take Thy royal throne; come, and reign, and reign forever, be the kingdom all Thine own! Glorious, glorious, glorious is Thy name, O Lord! Glorious, glorious, glorious is Thy name, O Lord!”

B. B. McKinney (1886-1952), gospel songwriter, teacher and music editor, was born in Heflin, La., on July 22, 1886. This corresponds to the period when Frederick W. Claybrook was pastor at Morattico, Irvington, White Stone and Weems churches. McKinney attended Mount Lebanon Academy, La.; Louisiana College, Pineville, La.; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas; Siegel-Myers Correspondence School of Music, Chicago, Ill.; and Bush Conservatory of Music, Chicago. 

McKinney married Leila Irene Routh on June 11, 1918.

Oklahoma Baptist University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Music in 1942. From 1918 to 1935, he was music editor for Robert Henry Coleman, songbook publisher in Dallas, Texas. Many of his works were originally published in Coleman’s songbooks and hymnals. In 1919, after several months in the U.S. Army, McKinney returned to Fort Worth, where Isham E. Reynolds asked him to join the faculty of the School of Sacred Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he taught until 1932.

From 1931 to 1935, McKinney served as assistant pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Fort Worth, in charge of music.

In 1935, he was named music editor for the Baptist Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, Tenn., where he edited the popular Broadman Hymnal (1940). In 1941, he became secretary of the newly formed Department of Church Music of the Sunday School Board, a post held until his death.

During McKinney’s career, he led music in numerous revivals, including those at the Buckner Orphan’s Home in Dallas. He had a special relationship with the children there who, from his initials “B. B.,” called him “Big Brother.” He also taught in schools of church music in local Southern Baptist churches. Under his own name and pen names including Martha Annis, Otto Nellen and Gene Routh, he composed words and music to nearly 180 gospel hymns and songs, composed the music for 114 others, and arranged more than 100 works. A broader view indicates that McKinney lent his hand to over 500 musical works. Additionally, he contributed to several textbooks. Our present edition of the Baptist Hymnal (Convention Press, 1992) includes some 16 of his hymns.

McKinney died in Bryson City, N.C., on September 7, 1952, from injuries received in an automobile accident several days earlier. He was returning from a Church Leadership Week (a featured annual organization started by him in 1941) at the Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly, Asheville, N.C.

For three decades after his death, his widow Leila kept busy with mountains of correspondence regarding her songsmith’s life and music.  She died on March 1, 1985, in San Antonio, Texas.

Truly I will hum and sing “Glorious Is Thy Name” over and over until God releases me to some other tune.

I thank God for all the songsmiths that have given the voices of God music. Indeed, my happiest Thanksgiving will always be in song. By the time we digest the turkey and pumpkin pie, we’ll dust off our collections of Christmas carols, and warble them all the way through to the new year.