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    A song inspired by
    John Wayne

    by Bob Bowman
    Bob Bowman

    The other night, while sitting in a Herty church listening to two gospel quartets (although one of them had nine members), my mind kept coming hack to “It Is No Secret What God Can Do,” a gospel classic written by East Texan Stuart Hamblen.

    Hamblen, the son of an itinerant preacher, wrote hundreds of songs during his lifetime, but his most enduring composition was the gospel classic inspired by, of all people, John Wayne.

    Hamblen was born in 1908 at Kellyville, west of Jefferson, but strayed from his father’s Methodist teachings when he became a western singing success, a radio star and a Hollywood star.

    He started drinking, gambling and brawling--a lifestyle befitting his frequent roles as a bad guy in films with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Wild Bill Elliott. His wife Suzy frequently prayed for him and Hamblen experienced a religious conversion at a 1949 Billy Graham crusade at Los Angeles. Hamblen stopped drinking and ran for president in 1952 as the Prohibition Party candidate.

    He encountered John Wayne, with whom he had appeared in “Flame of the Barbary Coast,” and Wayne asked him,”What’s this I hear about you, Stuart?” “Well, Duke,” answered Hamblen. “I guess it’s no secret what God can do.”

    “Sounds like a song to me,” said Wayne.

    The casual remark provided a creative spark for Hamblen. That night, sitting alone at home, he began writing a song, but had trouble finding a beginning. When a clock struck the hour, he wrote: “The chimes of time ring out the news. Another day is done. Someone slipped and fell. Was that someone you?”

    In seventeen minutes, Hamblen had created, “It Is No Secret,” a gospel classic which has been translated into nearly every language in the world. Following his success with “It Is No Secret,” Hamblen wrote more than 225 other songs, including “Remember Me” and “Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sunshine In.”

    His songs were recorded by Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb.

    Next to “It Is No Secret,” Hamblen’s biggest hit was “This Ole House,” which was recorded by Rosemary Clooney. Hamblen didn’t particularly like the way Clooney recorded the song, but it became a leading hit in seven countries and was 1954’s song of the year.

    Many people thought Hamblen wrote the song about a deteriorating old country home, but it was actually about the body of an aging Christian.

    Hamblen was inducted as a charter member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, was honored in 1971 by the Academy of Country and Western Music as radio broadcasting’s first singing cowboy, was given a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame in 1976, and received a Golden Boot Award in 1988 for his work in motion pictures.

    Hamblen, who made his home at a ranch outside Los Angeles, died at the age of eighty in 1989.

    In August of 2001, Hamblen was honored posthumously by the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, Texas.

    Appearing on stage to accept the award, his daughter said Hamblen was approached by a Christian fan who said her father didn’t really write, “It is No Secret” The fan insisted Hamblen “only held the pen.”


    © Bob Bowman
    April 8, 2012 Column
    (Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas history and folklore. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)
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