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Last year Moody Bible Institute music ensembles gave 100 concerts to people in 20 states and six foreign countries. The four ensembles—Moody Chorale, Symphonic Band, Men’s Collegiate Choir, and Women’s Concert Choir—trace their founding years to the 1950s. But the tradition of traveling ensembles dates back further, to the earliest days of Moody’s founding.
D. L. Moody planned a gigantic outreach effort for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, tent meetings that would feature preaching and gospel singing. With his favorite singer, Ira D. Sankey, exhausted from touring, Moody needed to recruit lots of new musicians, the best gospel singers from all over the country. He brought in a dozen soloists and at least four male quartets.
Moody’s plan was simple. He pitched a tent on the midway, near the new Ferris wheel and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. At Mr. Moody’s show, the preachers and singers presented a brief program, led the group in song, and then passed out free tickets to gospel services held throughout Chicago.
Every night for six months, various churches and concert halls hosted gospel events. Moody had persuaded his preacher friends to spend their summer vacation in Chicago, working the fair. Everyone said yes. Just imagine the month of July, with C. I. Scofield, A. B. Simpson, R. A. Torrey, A. C. Dixon, J. Wilbur Chapman, and A. J. Gordon preaching at various venues every night.
The best musical groups would sing at the opening of one service, then leave in a waiting Gospel Wagon that drove them to a second meeting while the first was still in progress.
The 1893 World’s Fair put Chicago on the map, an important milestone in its rise to global leadership (the event was later memorialized by a blue star on the Chicago flag). But the fair was also a watershed moment for D. L. Moody himself, as his personal leadership and influence grew to national proportions. Moody had the unique ability to organize 100 separate preaching sites all over Chicago, with two million people attending one of his services during the fair.
The Glad Tidings Quartet, 1928
And the crowds went home singing. Moody’s music groups taught the crowd new songs of testimony; the concerts became known for their congregational singing as well as their musical performances. Most of the songs came straight from Sankey’s Gospel Songs or other hymnals published in Chicago.
As the summer progressed, some of the vocalists had to return home, so the remaining singers recruited replacements, the best singers from each of the quartets. They formed a new super group with a great idea for a new name—the Moody Quartet. But first they needed formal permission from their namesake.
Until this point, D. L. Moody had been careful to leave his name off the institutions he founded. The Chicago Avenue Church and the Chicago Evangelization Society would not be given Moody’s name until after his death. But the evangelist agreed to the quartet’s request, asking the newly named group to tour with him on behalf of the young Bible institute. Later they would travel the Chautauqua circuit and sing in residence at Moody’s Mount Hermon School.
“All of the members of the quartet have cultivated voices and sing with a buoyancy and dash that is at once pleasant and satisfying,” a Pittsburg newspaper said. Their resulting fame would garner favorable publicity for the new Bible institute in Chicago, but with one irony: none of the singers had ever attended Moody’s school.
Perhaps the quartet would have been forgotten if it weren’t for one quirky moment. Harry Heath, a New York optician and recording hobbyist, met the quartet at an 1897 Ocean Grove concert and asked them to sing into his gramophone. The brown wax cylinder, stored in a dusty box for a hundred years, was recently discovered and restored by Archeophone Records.
Unnamed Female Quartet, 1928
The Moody Quartet traveled together until 1898, then gave a farewell performance at Moody’s funeral in 1899.
What did early gospel music actually sound like? Archeophone Records has released Waxing the Gospel, a 3-CD project featuring rare recordings from the 1890s. The project has been nominated for two Grammy awards: Best Historical Album and Best Album notes.
The new release illustrates Moody’s significant contributions to the emerging genre of gospel music. Many of the selections have Moody connections, including an 1897 performance by the Moody Quartet, 26 recordings by Ira D. Sankey, and two Scripture recitations by D. L. Moody himself. The CD set includes a book, featuring photos from the Moody Bible Institute Archives.
If you would like to attend a concert by one of Moody Bible Institute’s music ensembles, check their schedules here. They may be visiting a church near you!
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