Ouachita Baptist University hosted alumnus Dr. Ed Spann in a multi-media presentation on his book Presidential Praise: Our Presidents and Their Hymns Monday, Nov. 16, in Hickingbotham Hall’s Young Auditorium.
Spann, retired dean of the College of Fine Arts at Dallas Baptist University, had given this presentation at approximately 130 locations throughout the United States. The presentation, which offered a glimpse into the vast amount of information in the book, included biographical history on each U.S. president and their favorite hymn, as well as audio samples of several of the hymns.
Spann’s love of hymns was apparent as he stood before the table which held every Baptist hymnal from 1883 to 2008, as well as a copy of the 1737 hymnal that was the first to be printed in America, and described each one and its importance along with some of the songs included in each volume.
“Most hymns were written as summaries of sermons,” Spann said. He could provide not only the history of the hymns, but also its composer’s history and could even sing phrases of some of the songs.
“Dr. Spann has obviously done a great deal of research, written well and has a fine grasp of his material,” said Dr. Rob Hewell, associate professor of music. “The book and its contents are valuable for persons who enjoy biography and hymnology; the book provides a unique combination.”
Spann noted that he became interested in the subject matter of his book after learning what was said at the funeral of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president. He quoted, “We know this man by the hymns that he loved.”
Spann, a native of North Little Rock, holds degrees from Ouachita; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla. He has served as a music missionary in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he founded the Department of Sacred Music at the Baptist Seminary and has taught at Dallas Baptist University; Houston Baptist University; and Shorter College in Rome, Ga. He has served several churches and associations in related positions as well as chaplain’s assistant and bandmaster in the United States Army in Germany.
Spann said he decided to publish his research of each president for two main reason: First, to introduce these historic hymns to the present generation that has most likely never heard them. Second, he said, “in order to show in a powerful way that our country was founded on religion.”
Although the hymn of each president may not have been personally chosen by them—especially since some presidents were not religious—Spann said that he chose each song on the basis of its representation of each president’s time in office. In the book, he interprets the stanzas of the songs in light of each president’s life.
By Rebecca Stone