Friday, May 8, 2020

Hymns of Hope: How Long Has It Been?

In Southern Gospel music circles, songwriter Mosie Lister was a legend. His best known songs include “Where No One Stands Alone,” “Till the Storm Passes By,” “Then I Met the Master” and “How Long Has It Been?” Born into a musical family in Georgia, at an early age it appeared he was tone-deaf. Although he gradually learned to distinguish pitches, he wanted to do more than that...he wanted to write songs.

He came to fame as he began to work with southern gospel quartets; singing, arranging, writing and producing. One day he thinking about how people can drift away from the Lord. "Once upon a time, they had told God they loved Him, but they hadn’t given Him much thought in recent years," he said. Sound familiar? All of a sudden the lyrics came and he started writing as fast as he could. In ten minutes he had written "How Long Has it Been?"

"How long has it been since you talked with the Lord
and told him your hearts hidden secrets
How long since you prayed, how long since you stayed
on your knees’till the light shone through

How long has it been since your mind felt at ease
How long since your heart knew no burden
Can you call him your friend, how long has it been
since you knew that he cared for you"

Within five years, more than a million sheet music copies had been sold. Jimmy Davis was the first to release the song on record in 1956. The Blackwood Brothers released it later that same year. Jim Reeves followed in 1959, Jimmy Dean in 1960, The Statesman Quartet in 1964 and The Cathedral Quartet in 1966. Mosie said he stopped counting in the 600's.

Albert Brumley, who wrote “I’ll Fly Away,” once declared “How Long Has It Been” to be greatest gospel song ever written. When asked, “What about your song?” he replied, “It’s not in the same class.” Billy Graham’s soloist, George Beverly Shea, often closed his concerts by singing this song.

"How long has it been since you knelt by your bed
and prayed to the Lord up in Heaven
How long since you knew that He’d answer you
and would keep you the long night through

How long has it been since you woke with the dawn
and felt this day is worth living
Can you call Him your friend, How long has it been
since you knew that He cared for you"

My favorite recording of this song has to be the version Jimmy Dean recorded in 1960 and released on his album "Hymns" (Columbia Records).

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