I doubt very many modern worship leaders in their twenties or thirties know who Buryl Red was. But, because of him, the journey they are on as contemporary musicians had a beginning with an early champion. He was truly one of them long before even their parents were born.
Buryl Red was one of the first churchmen to introduce the rhythm section and the orchestra to Southern Baptist Churches in the late sixties and early seventies. He was a pioneer church musician who thought that guitars and drums and almost anything else that could be played had a place in the sanctuary next to the pipe organ. He loved virtually every style of music as long as the presentations of it reached a level of excellence befitting the glorious Savior we love. Yeah, Buryl was that guy.
The Jesus Movement had brought a new sound to the song of faith for many but that song lived outside of SBC churches for the most part. And it lived mostly in unconventional gatherings of believers — not in the First Baptist Churches of county seat towns in the southeast.
Then came Buryl Red.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a set of drums in a church. It was there to be part of the groundbreaking youth musical, “Celebrate Life” written by Buryl and Ragan Courtney. And, I’ll never forget the first time I “saw” an accompaniment track — it was in my church — Tate Street Baptist Church in Corinth, Mississippi. It was on a “reel to reel” deck and with it we sang Buryl’s classic collection “The Old Songs” — another groundbreaking idea. Imagine modern, rhythmic versions of old hymns for a new generation — just who did that first? Not Chris Tomlin — no, it was Buryl Red.
Yesterday this giant passed on to glory. And every worship pastor leading music in the modern church today should stop and thank God for this incredible man whose passion for the Lord and excellence as a musician impacted the modern worship movement in ways that will not be known until eternity.
Buryl told me one time what he considered to be one of the highlights of his musical career. It was 2008 and we were gathered in Nashville to commemorate the release of the 2008 hymnal. I had invited Buryl to be there and to conduct the orchestra and audience in singing hymn number 405 – the classic Communion hymn written with Ragan Courtney, “In Remembrance.” I’ve never seen anyone pull so much out of a moment as Buryl did that night.
As the song was coming to a close with that great tag line it is known for, he conducted it slower and slower and it seemed every person in the room was hanging on every beat of his conducting pattern. I was close enough to see the tears streaming down his face as we all sang, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”
He walked off the stage and came straight to me — “I thought my songs would die when I did. Hearing a new generation sing this tonight from a new hymnal is about as special as it could get for me. This has been a real highlight of my career. Thank you for inviting me. I will never forget it.”
Well, Buryl. I’ll never forget it either.
And excuse me while I stand a little taller on your shoulders today.
Director, LifeWay Worship