The below article was written by Dr. Eugene Murphey and was published in The Tower newsletter of January 2007.
The previous church history segment dealing particularly with our local church music program. I failed to note that the terrible tornado on April 6, 1936, happened on the night that the choir was practicing its Easter music program in the chancel area of the sanctuary. None of the choir members were injured, but they had to make their way out of the remains of the building in total darkness and as related earlier choir director Katy Topp, and her twin sister Clara later returned and rescued the pipes from the church organ. This serves to remind us that the church choir members are a specially dedicated group of people who will go to unbelievable lengths to serve the Lord and our church with music.
Several of those church members who survived the tornado were still singing in the choir when my wife and I moved to Tupelo in 1950. A choir stalwart was A.G. ‘Rock’ Bowen, who had a wonderful bass voice and, in spite of vision problems in his later years, continued to sign in the choir until he was ninety years old. He once asked our daughters, Jean and Margaret, then about five and seven, to stand in the chancel area and accompany him by ringing brass bells while he sang ‘Hear Them Bells.’ We still have the bells as mementos of that occasion. Another who came to Tupelo just after the tornado but continued singing until the mid-1950’s was Mrs. Daisy Purnell, mother of the late Ray Purnell and grandmother to Lee Walsh and Hugh Purnell.
Alice Bishop Rogers and Ann Bishop Godwin, both current choir members remember their parents, Erskine and Annie Laura, singing in the choir. Alice recalls playing the piano for her father who was diligently practicing a short solo ha had in an Easter program, ‘The Seven Last Words.’ His part was ‘I thirst!’ and just as he started to sing, Rock Bowen, thinking it was his part, jumped ahead and sang it for him. Needless to say, Erskine was devastated to miss his great solo opportunity.
Another great bass voice in the choir was the late Albert Walker, husband of Sabo Walker. He could always be depended on to hit those low notes. At the other end of the male voice, spectrum was the late Norman Wilcox, who has a wonderful tenor voice. His widow, Ruth Ann, is still a member of FPC.
First Presbyterian Church has been most fortunate over the years to have many outstanding and talented choir directors and organists, in addition to innumerable well-voiced choir members. Many of our long-term current choir and church members will remember such names as Nona Wayne Ewing, Tim Coker, Jo and Ben Orr, Wick Sparks, Larry Newman, Ken Courtney and Bruce Lesley. Our present interim director, Kathy Anderson, and our organist, Dr. Ray Harris, fall right in line with our desire and policy to have only the best in church music. Our music scholarship program has also provided the great opportunity of importing wonderful musical talent from educational institutions in the area. The students who have come to us through this means have not only been a great addition to the music program but also have set a high standard of musical excellence for all regular choir members.
The music program at FPC continues to be a very important and integral part of Christian worship, and it is our hope and prayer that it will continue to grow and develop to the glory of God.
-Eugene M. Murphey, M.D.