If you are a Mississippi Baptist and have never had the opportunity or taken the opportunity to hear Graham Smith sing or lead a choir or congregation in worship, you have missed a blessing. Even if you have not heard him sing, you have heard his name for all across our state and far beyond, he is indeed a legend. For over 50 years he has served churches across Mississippi as a dynamic and energetic worship leader. For almost half of those years he was the director of the Church Music Department of our state convention. If you missed hearing him, I am sorry. For now that voice is silent here on earth, but oh, what a treat you have ahead for you in heaven. I know that there will be great praise and worship in heaven. We will sing the new song. We will sing and praise the Lamb of God with new songs in unparalleled and unreserved worship. Still, while there will be great singers there it’s hard to imagine that there are many people that God has made with the uniqueness, the voice, that Graham Smith possessed.
This guy named Graham was my friend and my life has always been blessed and bettered and enriched because I have known him. It was over 40 years ago that our lives and ministries began to be intertwined simply because God allowed me to be his grandmother’s and his mother’s and dad’s pastor. I knew of Graham for he, even in those days, was almost an iconic figure among singers. But in the years that would follow, I grew to know him better and better as we in unusual and unique ways had opportunities to lead people in times of worship all across Mississippi and even to the ends of the earth.
Although I was not kin to the Smith clan I was privileged and blessed by his mom to be an honorary son. I’m not sure the date or even the place, but as time moved on, I became an adopted child in the Smith family. The blessings that followed were all mine. None of the blessings were more significant than the privilege that repeatedly and over a span of decades was mine to preach the Word of God after Graham either sang or lead a great choir in presenting the message of Jesus. Conducting a choir along with being given a voice that could sound like thunder, he was uniquely gifted musically and ministerially to touch lives. Whether speaking, singing or whispering, his voice resonated as though he was greater than life. I suppose the best description of his voice was. “It is indescribable.” That being true, it was also true that he spent his entire life focused on and seeking to use all his gifts to point people to our wonderful Savior, Jesus.
But having been blessed by this great voice and using it for God’s glory, whether singing a song or conducting a choir or leading a congregation to worship, he appeared to be bigger than life, but he indeed was not. He always viewed himself as an ordinary guy blessed with the opportunities to serve the Lord. He worked hard and lived out each day in gentle humility. He and his wife, Alice, were a great team of servants here in Mississippi for the 54 years they had together. His two children, Alicia and Louis, and their companions and their children are wonderful reflections of the goodness of God in a family and through them as they go on serving the Lord. But out of my privileged position, the seeing and hearing him through these many years, three glorious revelations portray his life.
First, he lived out a calling that came from God. Finishing high school down in Gulfport, he started out in college at Vanderbilt University planning to be a chemical engineer. While some of us may see that as a daunting task, he was fully capable of tackling that work, intellectually and every other way. But no, the God of heaven was at work in his heart and there was a different direction and a different chemistry that God would bring about in his life and He called him and Graham responded.
Secondly, I think about the unwavering fact that his music was always Christ honoring. He loved music and he loved the music that praised our God and exalted our Savior. Traditional music, he loved it, contemporary music that would honor the Lord, he loved it, but whatever he was leading or singing was an effort to bring people to see and hear of our wonderful Lord Jesus.
And the third magnificent thing that I would say about this guy named Graham is that his life matched his music. Singing the songs of Jesus, he walked with Jesus. He did not sing for music’s sake and he did not live out his ministry simply because it was a job. His life was devoted to Christ Jesus. And all that he ever sang or lead others to sing, his life backed up with grace and mercy and purity and integrity. His life and his music were both driven by the same heartbeat – his love for God and his love for others. For all of us who knew this guy named Graham, we grieve our loss along with his family. But every one of us who knew this guy celebrate the blessing and the great honor that was ours to have known him.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.