Rodeheaver—called “Rody” by associates and reporters alike—had a genial, extroverted personality. Although he was not unappreciative of classical and traditional sacred music, Rodeheaver enjoyed and promoted lively new gospel songs to Billy Sunday’s huge crowds. Rodeheaver was a natural showman who could warm his audience with jokes. He would direct crusade choirs and large crowds demonstratively using his trombone as the director’s baton; he would wave his trombone in the air and say that his instrument was a “Methodist trombone” that would occasionally “backslide.“
In his prime, Rodeheaver used his rich baritone voice to good effect as a soloist and as a participant in ensembles composed of other members of Sunday’s evangelistic team—especially duets with contralto Virginia Asher. During the heyday of the massive Billy Sunday evangelistic crusades, Rodeheaver directed the nation’s largest choruses: from a few hundred to as many as two thousand volunteers in various campaigns. His most recorded piece was Sunday’s theme song, Brighten the Corner Where You Are, a bouncy tune of limited theological depth that became part of the country’s folklore of the times.
After working with Billy Sunday, he helped found the Rodeheaver-Ackley Company, a gospel music publisher which later became the Rodeheaver Hall-Mack Company. He also founded Rainbow Sacred Phonograph Records, the nation’s first record company devoted solely to gospel music who around 1922 began issuing 78-rpm records. Rody was on nearly two dozen record labels during his twenty-nine year recording career (1913-42), with over 500 sides issued (in the pre-LP era).
Rodeheaver was the first person to conduct a community sing program on radio, broadcast by the NBC and CBS networks. Beyond his music endeavors, Rodeheaver, an orphan himself, started the Rodeheaver Boys Ranch for orphan boys in Palatka, Florida, which is still in operation today. Rody visited the ranch often, singing and playing the guitar for the boys. He also created and subsidized the Rodeheaver School of Music at the Winona Lake Bible Conference in Indiana, a two-week summer seminar that taught laymen to develop their musical abilities for their local churches. Rodeheaver traveled around the world on mission trips, authored several books and owned the copyrights to hundreds of gospel songs, the two most famous The Old Rugged Cross and In the Garden.
Rodeheaver continued to record through the 1930s, staying with his familiar repertoire and often re-recording the most popular songs. In publishing eighty different songbooks, he would often buy and re-copyright old material, including The Old Rugged Cross and In the Garden, the classic song written by C. Austin Miles. In the 1940s Rodeheaver worked with evangelist Bob Jones at the latter’s religious university and recorded two collections of 78 rpm records for Decca Records. Rodeheaver continued to tour into the early 1950s, presenting sacred concerts in various parts of the USA before his death in 1955. Homer Rodeheaver is also credited with starting the tradition of Easter sunrise services.
Through a wide variety of music and ministry endeavors and capacities, Homer Rodeheaver touched the hearts of millions and left a lasting mark on the world of Gospel Music.
Note: The Rodeheaver copyrighted song, In the Garden, was recorded by Elvis Presley on his 1967 Grammy Award winning album How Great Thou Art and has appeared in over 200 hymnals.
Content adapted/edited/written by GMA Hall of Fame staff member Jon Robberson Sr. with contributions from Wikipedia, Southern Gospel Association Hall of Fame, excerpts from The Music Men by Bob Terrell (published 1990), September 2021.