John Baird’s Tennessee Gospel

By Jennifer Joy Jameson, Notes From The Field series Editor
In the latest post from Notes From The Field, I wrote about the dynamic metal sculptures of Kittrell, Tennessee artist and gospel singer John Baird. I would be remiss, though, if I did not point the way to I’m Believin’: Gospel Music in Middle Tennessee, a recent album featuring field recordings of a few of John’s original a capella gospel tunes— tunes he is regularly asked to perform at churches throughout Rutherford County. The album is produced by Grammy-winning Spring Fed Records, the in-house record label of The ArtsCenter of Cannon County, in neighboring Woodbury, Tennessee. 

Informally recorded in the performers’ living rooms, the I’m Believin’ album (named after one of Mr. Baird’s compositions) features a snapshot of the wide range of contemporary gospel music performed across urban and rural Middle Tennessee—from the African-American sacred music tradition in Nashville, to the gospel of a Hispanic Pentecostal church in Franklin, to John Baird’s twang-tinged sermons in rural Rutherford County. The producers of the album observe that “Homemade religious musical expression is a tradition [in Middle Tennessee].” Mr. Baird’s unique songwriting process is detailed in the album’s liner notes: 

His songs come to him—often in the middle of the night—as poems that he sets to tunes of his own devising. His rich, country voice and free sense of phrasing make him an appealing a cappella singer, an American Bard.
John Baird has written over 100 gospel tunes, and, as part of an NEA-funded project, folklorist Evan Hatch and the folks at Spring Fed Records are preparing to record and archive every one of his original songs. Spring Fed is also collaborating with students at Middle Tennessee State University to create a series of webisodes featuring the art and music of John Baird, as well as other Tennessee and Southern artists—we can look for those videos this fall on their website.

For now, I’ll leave you with a verse of Mr. Baird’s country-gospel poetry:

I wanna sing a little rock and roll
About the Rock that saved my soul
This Rock will roll me over the tide
And’ll be waitin’ for me on the other side

John Baird – Jesus Is My Rock by Art of the Rural

Related Articles:
The Redeemer: John Baird’s Everyday Art
Notes From The Field archives