We’ve all had the experience of getting a song stuck in our head for an extended period of time. If you’re really unfortunate, that song may be one by Christopher Cross or Air Supply.
But sometimes, these “earworms,” as they are dubbed, can lead to good things.
That recently happened to one of us right here at BreakPoint. While reading a biography of the early 20th century evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, my colleague and friend Roberto Rivera found himself humming and singing the gospel song “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do).”
He’s not sure why the song popped into his head; he couldn’t recall ever singing it before. But once it entered his consciousness, it didn’t leave. While driving the next day, he searched for the song on Spotify and listened to two very different versions: the first by the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and the second by Elvis Presley.
At this point, he looked up the song on Google to find out who wrote it. And what he found was the kind of story that you can’t make up.
Fittingly, Roberto found the story on Truth or Fiction.com, which like Snopes.com, verifies and/or debunks rumors or urban legends floating around on the web.
As the site tells, “It Is No Secret” was written by Stuart Hamblen, who is regarded as one of radio’s first “singing cowboys.” Hamblen, the son of a Methodist minister from Texas, didn’t handle his fame very well. As Wikipedia tells us, his drinking, and the brawling and “destructive behavior” it produced, landed him in jail “many times.”
This all changed in 1949 when Billy Graham appeared on Hamblen’s show as a way to publicize what would become the historic Los Angeles Crusade. While on the show, Graham invited Hamblen to attend the crusade, and Hamblen accepted. Later, Hamblen contacted Graham and asked if they could meet and talk. And it was then that Hamblen committed his life to Christ.
Sometime later, a friend of Hamblen asked him about the rumor going around Hollywood that Hamblen had changed his ways. Hamblen replied that it was no secret what God had done for him and what God could do for his friend, too. The friend then replied that Hamblen should turn those lines into a song.
That friend’s name was John Wayne. No kidding.
So Hamblen followed Wayne’s advice—he wrote it. “It Is No Secret” became the first song to reach #1 on the Gospel, Country, and Pop charts. Think about that: a song that tells us that “with arms wide open, he’ll pardon you” reached #1 on the Pop chart. Thank you, John Wayne.
It’s been recorded many times, arguably most famously by Elvis Presley. Also by Johnny Cash. Perhaps the greatest illustration of the song’s lasting impact is that “the original manuscript of the song ‘It Is No Secret’ is buried in the cornerstone of the Copyright Buildings of the Library of Congress.” Wow.
Singing cowboys, Billy Graham, John Wayne, Elvis and a song about God’s restorative power. As I said, you can’t make this kind of story up.
But God can. And that is the point of Hamblen’s song. God longs to, as my friend Thomas Howard wrote in “Christ the Tiger,” (great book),“restore to you the good which your own foolish mistakes have cheated you.”
That’s no secret. That is the good news.
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is currently the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Elvis Presley — ‘It Is No Secret’