Hymns & Spirituals
How The Holy Rollin' Empire came about ... Although I (Julie Powell) grew up attending the Presbyterian church every Wednesday and Sunday of my life, by the time I made it to Athens I began to question exactly why I was attending. I recognized a certain 'getting your card punched' mentality in myself mixed in with a little moral guilt, and I wanted more of a reason to attend church than that coupled with a chal- lenging alto line during the anthem. So I took some time off and waited until I was drawn back into regular church worship. Over a period of about two years, one recommendation kept coming to me through the strangest sources. Apparently, there was this Sunday School teacher at St. James United Methodist that people went to hear even if they didn't go to church. For some reason, that carried a particular weight with me. My mother moved to Athens two years ago, and I was hoping we could find a church we both liked. She was willing to do anything I would do, so I suggested that we check this guy out. So one Sunday we went to St. James. We entered the Fellowship Hall a little before 10:00 assuming we could ask around and find the right class. Now I like to size up a situation before I jump in - scan the crowd and find the right person to ask. I did not want to waste a Sunday in the wrong class. My mother, however, just went right up to the first guy she saw. No scanning, no checking with me, nothing! Of course, this guy happens to teach his own class, and now we're obligated to go. I'll admit, I was not happy with having lost control of the situation, and I was not looking forward to the let down of a boring class. My mom and I sit down in the class, and the teacher begins by reading an article Carolyn Moore (then Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church) had written in the Athens Banner-Herald calling local churches to action in the Garden Springs situation (when the Hispanic and African-American families were evicted on short notice with no options from the mobile home park on North Avenue - now Campus Lodge). I had already been interested in Garden Springs and equally disillusioned with churches for their lack of involvement in what's going on right outside their own doors. So I perked up. As soon as he finished reading, he began addressing the issue in his own words. It was then that I knew I had met Jim Kilgo. Jim was well-known to many as a writer, an excellent teller of stories. He is the author of Deep Enough for Ivory Bills, Daughter of My People, and Colors of Africa, to name a few. I, however, did not know Jim as a writer at all, but I did know him as a teller of the stories of the Bible. I could write for pages about Jim, as could many others, I have come to find. Suffice to say that Jim became like a father to me in the last two years of his life. Every day I thank God that I got into Jim's life before he was gone. One thing Jim and I particularly loved was music. All kinds of music. Since we were in church together, however, we spent a lot of time singing religious music. I would often do special music during the services - songs that I had written or old church standards - and Jim would just beam. When I met Jim, he had been battling cancer for almost ten years. A few months later, he entered the hospital and ended up in ICU with a respiratory condition (ARDS) that is almost always irreversable. Everyone was praying for his healing, and God willing, he walked out of the hospital and was in church the next Sunday. It would be just under a year before Jim died. The next 11 months was clearly a God-given time for Jim - Colors of Africa was finished, he saw he second granddaughter born, to name a few. When he entered ICU again at the end of November 2002, it seemed more like it was time for Jim to go. At some moment, I don't remember when- I got the distinct urge to be singing when he passed, like I was supposed to sing him into Heaven. Of course, predicting the time of someone's death that precisely is next to impossible. I could either sing continuously, or trust God. I chose the later, out of necessity =) It was a Sunday night, and I had had a late dinner at the Grit. Something in me said go by the hospital. I couldn't see Jim since he was in ICU and whatever family was there was probably not in the mood for visitors. But I went anyway. When I entered the ICU hall, there was a group of about 10 people in a circle praying outside of Jim's door - not an unusual sight. I joined the group. Shortly thereafter, someone asked me to lead them in singing. So I started with the well-known hymns. We sang for about ten minutes, and then a door opened at the other end of the hall. We all i'm- mediately realized that Jim was not the only one in ICU, and perhaps everyone else did not want to hear singing at 10:00 on Sunday night. A lady went down to apologize, and I was crushed. I just couldn't bear to stop singing. The lady returned, beaming, and said they were just opening the door so they could hear better! And we started up again. A little later, Jim's doctor came out and said they had decided to take him off the respirator. He would die when his body gave out - that could be two minutes, two hours, two days, two weeks. Should we keep singing? The group decided yes. Not too much later, Jane, Jim's wife, came out of his room in a burst of light it seemed (they had finally turned the lights on the room) and said that Jim had passed. So in God's amazing grace and timing, I was part of a group (of angels?) that sang Jim on into heaven. We we're singing 'Oh How He Loves You and Me' when he passed. And he did. This recording project was my attempt to pay tribute to Jim's life and carry on the most important story he ever told - the story of Jesus. I picked the most beloved, old Southern hymns and two spirituals. I wanted to take the wonderful old songs (Old Rugged Cross, Because He Lives, Shall We Gather at the River, Because He Lives, etc.) that have passed out of favor with many in my generation and give them back their life. I assembled the best band I could, though I'll admit I was nervous as to how seriously they would take the project. The group that recorded the album was Neal Fountain (bass and guitar), Colin Bragg (guitar), James Hooker (Hammond B-3 organ and piano), and Jeff Reilly (drums). If I had the entire world of musicians at my fingertips, I couldn't have had a better group. I didn't ever intend for the group to play live because, honestly, I couldn't figure out where we'd play - at the 40 Watt? But when things are meant to be, those questions take care of themselves. The name came out of a slip of the tongue, but I thought it was absolutely perfect for describing what we are doing, so I kept it. Back to where we started, Jim's class and Carolyn's article ... After Jim's class, I made a point to meet Carolyn Moore and made a friendship that lasted beyond Garden Springs. Carolyn was the minister at Sundays @ The Morton, a contemporary service of First United Methodist Church, that meets at The Morton Theatre. Last November, she needed someone to take over as the Worship Leader, or the band leader, of the Praise Band. Not only did I know very little contemporary Christian music, I couldn't stand most of what I'd heard. However, something came over me when she asked, and I volunteered to do it. I felt like I could use my musical abilities to serve God, and that was enough. The last time I saw Jim conscious, I went by his house to asked his opinion. He thought it was a good idea. He handed me a little Martin back-packer guitar that his sister had given him, and I played him a song I had just written based on a Biblical story - 'Jericho.' We hugged, and that was it. He let me go, and I let him go. Since December, I have been the Worship Leader at Sundays @ The Morton, and I absolutely love it. The band is incredible. Carolyn is starting a church in Augusta, and we have a new minister, David Moore (no relation), who is equally wonderful. So all this is to say, thank God I went to Jim's class. I hope this music that the Holy Rollin' Empire plays carries on the message of love and hope that was so important to Jim.