Get the details behind the creation of some of gospel music’s most popular songs at JGM’s Genesis of a Gospel Song.
A. Jeffrey LaValley: “Revelation 19” (Hallelujah, Salvation and Glory)
A. Jeffrey LaValley, as told to JGM’s Bob Marovich
I was born in Milwaukee and brought up at the Emmanuel Church of God in Christ until age ten, when a new church was formed in our living room: New Hope Church of God in Christ.
I began writing music at age thirteen. My first song was called “Consider Your Ways,” based on a scripture from Haggai. I couldn’t remember it now if I tried!
My first appearance on a record was at age fourteen: Tellin’ the World by the Wisconsin Community Choir on Creed (1968). I was the organist.
I never chose music. It was something that the Lord planned. I wanted to be a broadcast journalist. I wanted to be on television and do the news. But I always fell back on music. I wasn’t looking to be a songwriter at that time, I was just happy and honored to be playing on somebody’s [recording] session.
My first assignment in gospel music was as minister of music at New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Flint, Michigan. I came there in December 1972 to play for a friend’s father’s funeral. Bishop Odis Floyd was at the funeral, and he liked the way I played. I was just 18 and I had to ask my mom and I had to check with my pastor. My pastor didn’t want me to go because I was going to be playing for a Baptist church. My mom said, “You are a grown man. If you want to go, I’ll help you pack your bags.” Two weeks later I was gone. I left and went to Penn State in 1975 to study journalism, and returned to New Jerusalem in 1979, and I’ve been there ever since.
Songs I have written include “True Victory,” “No Greater Love,” and “Saved to Serve” for Keith Pringle. “Come to Me” for Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. “Holy” for Wilmington Chester Mass Choir.
“Revelation 19” was an accident. We were in communion service [at New Jerusalem Baptist Church] one Sunday evening in 1985, and the spirit was high. My pastor was standing in the pulpit with his Bible. He walked over to the organ. He flings the Bible on the organ and says, “Sing this.” I said, “Excuse me?” He said, “Sing this.” The Bible was turned to Revelation 19:1.
You really have to know your ministry, and singing is not mine. The pastor walked back to his pulpit, and I didn’t know what to do, so I began singing the first melody that came into my mind. It was basically the first verse of the song. I sang the verse over and over. Finally the choir joined in unison, and then the congregation joined in, and everybody kept at it.
I figured this was it, because I was going to forget the song and the people were going to forget it. But the sound man, who never taped communion service, just happened to tape that communion service. He gave a copy of the tape to me.
At that point, we were preparing the His Eye Is On the Sparrow album and we needed a filler cut. So I took that tape and added the “For the Lord Our God is Mighty” section, and did the little descant, and taught it to the choir. But Bishop said, “You’re not leaving me out of this; I want to add words on this one.” And that’s how it all happened.
I never expected “Revelation 19” to resonate with people as it has. When Stephen Hurd re-recorded it, that’s when I knew it was a hit. Israel Houghton did it in one of his Christmas medleys. I got a CD from people in Germany singing my song. Dr. Robert Townsend introduced it to the people at Hal Leonard Publishing. It’s probably my most popular tune.
It is a very humbling thing because it was just something that happened. Most people would say it was a God movement.