Reflecting on the music of Billy Graham

There is not much that I can add to the national discussion of Billy Graham this past week and I am not going to try. However, as I read an article about his funeral service, I saw a name of a person that has influenced me a lot. The pianist for the service was John Innes.

John Innes was Billy Graham’s organist/pianist at the crusades for decades spanning back to 1965. He held one of the most prominent music positions possible in church music I suppose. His music was heard all over the world. But when I think about John, I think mostly about the fact that he answered the phone when I called him at some point around 2005.

I was looking for arranging help and without knowing me, he agreed to start meeting me. We met for about a year and shortly afterward, I recorded Reflections on a Journey. If I were to start naming musicians that have impacted me, he would be on the short list. There are many, many things in my music that I can trace back to him.

Though it is clear that John values older music, he has always been the kind of musician who does not get stuck in the past. To this day, his music sounds current and a great deal of that comes from modern influence. When we worked together, he wanted to focus on classical music but at the same time, he was encouraging me to listen to more modern musicians. I won’t name all the musicians that he liked but at least at that time, Linda Rondstadt’s work was a big inspiration for him.

I always have sort of seen John Innes’s piano work as pretty much the pinnacle of church piano in general. It is a stylish blend of modern and old, functional and artistic. It is the pinnacle not just because of quality but also because he represents an ending of an era in church piano music. From the onset of the piano’s entry into the church in the early 20th Century, the great revivalists such as Graham have always sort of carried the torch for what church piano music should be by making a big deal about music and featuring the piano heavily.

Since the crusade is now pretty much a thing of the past, Innes as the pianist for the last great revivalist will probably be the last pianist that fits that particular mold. In addition, over the past few decades, the piano’s role in church music has changed dramatically and been deemphasized. With an ever-shrinking list of exceptions, you simply do not hear the piano used in church today like Innes used it.

Obviously, Innes is quite elderly now and his playing is not quite where it once was but I encourage you to watch his interlude from the Billy Graham funeral and then maybe listen to him accompany some of the singing. What you are hearing is significant in a lot of ways. First, as already noted, the piano is not used much this way anymore in a church setting but second, it is just great work.

I have created this link so that it starts in the right place in this very long service. You can skim through it to hear his playing in other spots.

If you don’t see the video below, click here: