Winona History Center Serves as Crucial Resource for the First Critical Biography of Sacred Music Giant, Homer Rodeheaver

Within America’s evangelical subculture, Christian music is a big deal. But even before the “Contemporary Christian Music” scene of the 1980s, the roots of Christian music extended back to revival songs of the nineteenth-century, southern gospel, and the youth culture of the 60s and 70s. Among theserodeheaver roots we find Homer Rodeheaver, who is, admittedly, anything

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Doug Yeo

but a household name. Yet Rodeheaver’s importance for the history of sacred music is immense. Growing up in rural Appalachia, Rodeheaver’s folksy yet charismatic persona worked well on the revival circuit as he traveled with Billy Sunday, the most famous evangelist in the early decades of the twentieth-century. Beyond his fame as Sunday’s trombone-toting song leader, however, Rodeheaver used his

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Kevin Mungons

celebrity status to build a publishing and recording company that not only made him a wealthy man but also a substantial link in the evolution of sacred music in America. His legacy also extends to the Christian music industry today. Yet Rodeheaver has largely been overlooked by historians—the evidence for which is the fact that no major biography of Rodeheaver has been written.

But this is about to change. Kevin Mungons and Douglas Yeo, both of whom are scholars and musicians, are deep into their research on Rodeheaver’s life and work, which includes the records and manuscript sources in the archives at the Winona History Center and Morgan Library. Yeo and Mungons are making new discoveries about Rodeheaver’s youth, examining rumors of a secret engagement to female celebrity evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and wrestling with Rodeheaver’s uneasy appropriation of slave songs and minstrel music. Beyond the new knowledge of Rodeheaver’s life, however, the larger significance of Yeo and Mungons book, to be published by the University of Illinois Press, will be in its ability to expand our understanding of gospel music in American history and even the music culture of today.

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