Billy Graham Preached at His Crusades. His Singers Believed They Were Preaching Too.

A late historian explores how crusade hymns told both the classic story of gospel salvation and the evolving story of evangelical worship music.

Crowds of over 50,000. Famous special guests. Hundreds of cities in the US and around the world. Beloved, catchy songs. For many, these might sound like readouts from the Taylor Swift Eras Tour hype machine. But exchange the glittery girl power for the gospel in baritone, and you have one of the most successful musical touring acts in the postwar world: the Billy Graham Crusades.

The first association that “Billy Graham Crusade” may evoke is not musical at all, but rather a close-up shot of the evangelist, with his penetrating, wide-eyed gaze and raised forearms, thundering, “The Bible says …” Admittedly, music was not the main focus.

Yet as the late historian Edith Blumhofer shows in her final book, Songs I Love to Sing: The Billy Graham Crusades and the Shaping of Modern Worship, neither Graham’s ministry nor the late-century rise of contemporary Christian music can be understood without it. As crusade song leader Cliff Barrows pursued his main goal—“sing to save”—he and his teammates bridged stylistic, cultural, and generational divides, transforming evangelicals’ music into the harmonic blend of old and new that is familiar today.

Mining rich resources

Before unpacking this highly original book, a few words about the author. Blumhofer is an American religious historian renowned for her empathetic biographies of hymnist Fanny J. Crosby and evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, as well as broader studies of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism. She concluded her career with this new study, sadly succumbing to a battle with cancer in the process.

To finish the project, she tapped Jesus People expert Larry Eskridge, with whom she had for many years directed the Institute …

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