The below article was written by Dr. Eugene Murphey and was published in the ???? 20?? Tower newsletter. Dr. Murphey gives a history of these missionaries and their importance to the Presbyterian church. The below is but one part of Dr. Murphey’s research. Additional articles will be added soon!
Church music has always been an important part of the worship service at First Presbyterian Church, Tupelo. The musical instruments used and the participants in the music program, both choirs, and congregation, have provided us with many interesting and fascinating bits of historical information that should be shared with our members.
Thanks to Edith Ruff Thomas, Louise Nanney Godwin, and Catherine Hunter Sadler, who have helped preserve much of our FPC history, we learn that our present church building was constructed almost from the ground up after the disastrous tornado of 1936 destroyed much of the original building. The organ in the chancel area then located at the north end of the sanctuary survived without major damage, but the organist and choir director, Miss Katie Topp, and her twin sister, Miss Clara, rescued the organ pipes from the debris and carried them to their home and his them under their bed. We think that the pipes were later reincorporated into the original instrument which remained in use until the current Letourneau Organ was installed in 1996. This is one that currently is so masterfully played by our organist, Dr. Ray Harris.
Very little is known about church music and instruments in the original church building then located on the corner of North Church Street and Walnut Street. That church congregation later merged with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church then located in the next block south on Church Street across the street from the present post office. The merged churches became First Presbyterian Church at its present location on Jefferson Street. We do know that the first pipe organ for the church, a Hook and Hastings instrument, was purchased in 1905 soon after the merger and remained in use except for refurbishment and enlargement by Dr. Norman Ryan of Duke University in the 1960’s.
Our church organ survived another disaster when the church partially burned in 1951. The church organ was not damaged but had to be removed and restored until reconstruction of the building was completed.
The church members primarily responsible got overseeing the selection and installation of our present organ was chaired by Margaret Gratz, who assisted Dr. Ray Harris, Dr. Bruce Lesley, Chauncey Godwin, Beth McAuley, Doyce Deas, and Edith Thomas. In the dedicatory program for the organ on September 29, 1996. Dr. Bruce Lesley, our former choir director, said: ‘Our new Letourneau organ can only serve to enhance our worship and praise of God through music well into the next century. Let us give thanks to God, that as we dedicate this newest voice among us, it will speak of his great Glory in a language that transcends words for all who worship in this beautiful place.’
Dr. Harris in the same program stated, ‘This new organ we are dedicating today is an exciting instrument of praise. Many individuals have contributed to make this organ a reality. It will represent for years to come the offerings of praise not only of this generation but also of those who have gone before. In installing it, we are not indulging in art’s sake. We are giving a gift to God – not a mediocre gift, but a gift of our best.’
-Eugene M. Murphey, M.D.