In the fall of 1987, I was a freshman enrolled at Trevecca Nazarene University, studying Music Business. Every TNU student’s weekly schedule included chapel services. One particular morning, I decided to arrive at Benson Auditorium several minutes early in order to get a good seat for a reported special musical guest. When I took my seat, I witnessed a family doing vocal warm-ups around the piano on the platform. They were working their way through a routine of exercises: scales, sirens, arpeggiations, and a fast, feverish, and repetitious enunciation of “red leather, yellow leather”. About 30 minutes later, the usual student crowd gathered and the Chaplain walked to the center of the platform and introduced the special ministry guest for the morning: The Williamsons.
Having grown up in a music ministry/music industry home, I had heard of Dave Williamson and his family numerous times — their talent was widely known and respected as world-class. For the first time, I was witnessing this extraordinarily gifted family up close and personal. The chapel service that morning was equal parts musically (second-to-none) and spiritually transformational! All five of the family members — Dave and Jan (Dad and Mom), as well as Scott, Aimee Joy, and Kara (three teenage kids) shared unmatched musical ability. Meanwhile, towering above such incredible musicianship was a heart for engaging people in worship that I have rarely encountered anywhere. The moments in between songs were poignant and Spirit-filled, as Dave shared a unique combination of scripture and stories from the family’s journey through life together.
Many years later, my career path afforded me the privilege of learning more from and about Dave Williamson through collaborating with him on countless numbers of church music resources. Along the pathway of partnership and friendship, there were seasonal church musicals, untold numbers of choral anthems and collections, artist recordings, and much more. The more I worked with Dave, the more I learned from him about worship, music, loving God, loving family, and loving people. You see… that was Dave.
Not long before the end of the 1990’s, Dave was traveling around the United States and sharing with churches a concept that he called, “The Worship Leading Choir.” This effort, initiated in partnership with Word Music, found a very ripe season of resource development and influence in eventual partnership with Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing (where I was, at that time, serving as Creative Director). I am incredibly grateful that I was assigned the esteemed honor of working with Dave in order to complete a host of “Worship Leading Choir” resources, including a CD library of rehearsal, warm-up, and scriptural audio workshops, a couple of choral collections, and dozens of choral octavos. Dave was laser-focused on his God-given mission to inspire the church choir to become less focused on performance and more focused on leading worship, all of the while striving for musical excellence to the glory of God.
Like so many worship pastors and choir directors around the world, I was so inspired by Dave’s insight, passion, and creativity! I invited him to share some of his insight with the church choir I was leading at the time. I will never forget that night… Choir Christmas Banquet at the lovely home of Terry Jo and Rob Edwards! Our choir of roughly 40 people gathered that night and listened to Dave pour out his heart about leading in worship, the privilege of singing God’s praises, and ministry to people. Dave sowed into the hearts of those 40 people with the passion you would expect from someone speaking to a crowd of 10,000 people. Yes, that was Dave.
It didn’t matter if he was sharing a cup of coffee with someone one-on-one, producing a recording session with some of Nashville’s most talented musicians, leading a choir retreat for a mass choir of 1500 people, or talking to new friends in a living room lit by a Christmas tree. Dave was all about ministering to people, and he did it equally well through intentional relationship and unsurpassed creative expression! His interaction with everyone around him — all of the time — was consistently centered on making great music, helping the hurting, and inspiring others to worship the Lord.
Uniquely, the most incredible evidence of Dave’s ministry may very well be found in places other than music. It has been an incredible joy and privilege of mine to have gotten to know and work with Dave’s children, Scott, Aimee Joy, and Kara, over the past 25 years. Each of them, in his/her own right, has carved out a distinguished place of musical accomplishment in Nashville, TN and Los Angeles, CA. Meanwhile, alongside such professional accolade and success, they are all supremely dedicated to worship in their local church and continue to contribute to the ongoing resourcing efforts of just about every church music publisher in America. Dave Williamson’s philosophy and theology of worship is bearing its first fruits in his own home — and, for this, I have the highest respect and admiration! Despite the demands of church ministry and free-lanced professional creativity, Dave loved and shepherded his family with greatest of determination. That was Dave.
Earlier this week, my friend and mentor, Dave Williamson, passed away and is, no doubt, leading the greatest growing Worship Leading Choir ever assembled! The author of the famed book, “God’s Singers,” is now singing at the throne of the Author of the universe. The outpouring of love, respect, and admiration for Dave has been absolutely overwhelming to watch on social media channels over the course of the last few difficult weeks of his life. Every note he has written over the years for singers and instrumentalists, every magazine article he wrote, every rehearsal he led, each person he counseled, every hospital visitation he made, every orchestra he conducted, every session he produced, every choir retreat he conducted… it all adds up to one extraordinary life of authentic and deeply-impactful ministry that has touched innumerable lives!
Just a few weeks ago, I visited Dave in the hospital. He was in excruciating pain and his prognosis was bleak. After a few moments of small talk about a shared love for all things Disney and a recap of recent family events, I did my best to quicken the conversation toward encouraging my brother. I shared a few hymn lyrics and passages of scripture with him. He smiled his contagious and unrivaled smile along the way. Then, as only Dave could, he lost nothing on the moment and, in turn, encouraged me. He shared about his deep faith in Christ, despite circumstance and immeasurable depths of pain. He spoke of his unbridled love for Jan, Scott, Aimee Joy, Kara, and the 11 grandchildren who owned his heart. We prayed together and he turned to me, gripping my hand, and said, “Craig, I love you so much and I needed to hear what you had to say today. I cannot thank you enough!” I hugged him, walked to my car, sank back in my seat, wept tears of intermingled joy and sorrow for my friend, and thanked God for the gift of Dave Williamson. For, you see, he had encouraged me that day — and every time I was with him — without exception! Indeed, that was Dave!
Those of us left in the wake of Dave Williamson’s ministry will hold fast to the incredible memories he handed to us. We will thrill at every opportunity to sing and play his masterful songs, arrangements, and orchestrations. Our hearts will be continually shaped by the biblical concepts he taught. His legacy will reverberate in the lives of his dear wife, children, and grandchildren. His loving smile will warm the hallways of our souls, as we recall who he was to each of us. Though we grieve in this season for the passing of a friend and brother, we look on his journey and learn more of what true discipleship and worship are all about. We find Jesus in each and every measure and heartbeat! That was Dave.
How comforting and miraculous it is to know that we are among those who are not grieving without hope! Above and beyond our sorrow and comprehension is the music of Dave Williamson, now filling the portals of heaven. With notes and phrases that his heart had once only dreamed about, Dave’s pen is pouring forth perfect praise. The vision God gave him for “The Worship Leading Choir” is now Dave’s permanent address. His unforgettable smile is part of the common language of every tribe and nation assembled in the halls of eternity. All of his suffering is over and he is rejoicing at the feet of Jesus- no doubt hearing the words he has longed to hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” That, my friends, is Dave!
Throughout the better course of the past 30 years, Dave Williamson has contributed greatly to the ongoing ministry of LifeWay Worship. Mike Harland and the entire LifeWay team invite you to join us in prayer for the Williamson family in these days. We recognize the incomparable contribution Dave Williamson made to our organization’s history and, more importantly, to the Church of Jesus Christ worldwide.