William J. Reynolds, renowned professor and hymnologist, passes away

William J. Reynolds, church musician, composer, arranger, editor, hymnologist and distinguished professor emeritus of church music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, went home to be with the Lord, March 28. He was 88.

Born April 2, 1920, in Atlantic, Iowa, Baptist music was a passion and a way of life. Reynolds was the nephew of I.E. Reynolds, a pioneer in gospel music at Southwestern Seminary for 30 years. In 1915, I.E. Reynolds led Southwestern in a systematic training of church musicians by outlining the emphases that continue to this day. William J. Reynolds followed in his uncle’s footsteps.

“Dr. Reynolds has the wonderful reputation of being a complete and multifaceted church musician,” said Stephen P. Johnson, dean of the School of Church Music at Southwestern.

“As composer, conductor, hymnologist, author, director of the Church Music Department at the Baptist Sunday School Board and teacher, he encouraged generations of church musicians in their creation and performance of quality church music. Because of his love for all aspects of church music in many styles, he was a beloved colleague of church musicians ranging from smaller rural churches to large congregations in the United States and beyond. His contribution to church music throughout the Southern Baptist Convention was scholarly, practical, inspiring and enduring.”

William J. Reynolds composed more than 700 choral anthems, hymn tunes, children's songs, etc. Hymns he composed were published in the 1956, 1975, 1991 and August 2008 editions of the Southern Baptist Hymnal. He served as music director for various meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist World Alliance (1958-1986). The first Baptist elected president of The Hymn Society of America, he was named a Fellow in 1992.

From 1946-1955, Reynolds served as minister of music and youth at the First Baptist Church of Ardmore, Okla., and later as minister of music at the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. For 25 years he served with the church music department of the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1980, he was appointed to the faculty of Southwestern Seminary as professor of church music, serving there until his retirement in 1998.

After his retirement, Reynolds donated to the Bowld Music Library at Southwestern Seminary an extensive music collection containing more than 1,500 volumes of hymnody, including hymnals, biographies of hymn writers and histories of congregational hymn singing, focusing mostly on Southern Baptist life in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Reynolds’ donated collection also includes an archive of more than 750 files containing biographical and historical information about hymns, hymn writers, and composers of hymn tunes, material carefully gathered by Reynolds during his 60 year career as a church musician and historian.

Reynolds had a special interest in the southern tradition of Sacred Harp singing, a unique kind of a capella gospel singing. Reynolds was a consultant in the publication of the Sacred Harp Songbook and was featured in the 2006 documentary Awake My Soul which explores the history, music and traditions of Sacred Harp singing. He organized the first Sacred Harp sing gathering at Southwestern; the annual gathering was named in his honor and celebrated its 25th year in January 2009.

Reynolds authored two hymnal handbooks, Hymns of Our Faith (1964) and Companion to Baptist Hymnal (1976) and a hymnology textbook, A Survey of Christian Hymnody (1964). He also contributed to Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal (1992), consulted for The Sacred Harp (1991 ed.), and wrote a history of music at Southwestern Seminary, The Cross & the Lyre: The Story of the School of Church Music (1944).

Southwestern president Paige Patterson offered his condolences to friends and family. “Dr. William J. Reynolds may well be directing a choir of angels by now. Long years of directing the music for the Southern Baptist Convention and groundbreaking years of instructing future ministers of music here at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, together with prolific contributions to the music we all have sung, combine to make him an institution in Baptist life. I am happy he is in heaven, but Southwestern will miss him and cherish his memory.”

Reynolds was hospitalized in Nashville recently after suffering from heart failure and pneumonia. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Mary Lou Robertson Reynolds; sons, Timothy Jensen (Jeanie) of Nashville and Kirk Mallory (Ann) of Alexandria, VA; granddaughters, Abigail Leigh and Rachel Elizabeth Reynolds of Nashville and Hannah Louise Reynolds of Alexandria, VA; sister, Mary Ellen (John) Lovelace of Dallas, TX; brother, James Theodore (Marcia) Reynolds of Bartlesville, OK.

A memorial service will be held at First Baptist Church of Nashville at 11 a.m., Wednesday, April 1, 2009.

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