They Took Their Song Behind Prison Walls

Tennessee state prison

t was Sunday afternoon, June 4, 1972, when the Brooks ­Christian Singers drove their big Silver Eagle bus behind the first iron gate of the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville, Ten­nessee.

Bill Brooks, a former disc jock­ey for radio station KAVE in Carlsbad, New Mexico; his wife Shirley (Black) Brooks, the daughter of a Church of God min­ister; and his brother, Randy Brooks, the group’s pianist and tenor singer, had traveled all over the southwestern United States before teaming up with Gary and Becky Christian from Lemmon, South Dakota.

Gary Christian had majored in music at Northwest Bible Col­lege in Minot, North Dakota, and at Lee College in Cleveland, Ten­nessee. The smooth texture of his trained voice, added to the rich talent of his wife, Becky (Hubin) Christian, and the professional experience of the Brooks had cre­ated a unique sound in gospel music – a blend of western style with the rhythmic beat of today’s fast-paced music. Since the first of the year, the group had trav­eled over 35,000 miles and had won over 500 people to the Lord. Now, in Nashville, they were em­barking upon one of the richest experiences of their young career.

The prison guards, over­whelmed by the sight, expressed their surprise that a vehicle could even enter those cloistered walls.

Standing in the doorway of the big bus was the Reverend David Culp, pastor of the West Nashville Church of God, where a number of prison inmates hold member­ship. He spoke with the guards and received permission to enter.

Before the next gate could be opened, the first gate had to be closed. The enclosed area was just barely big enough for the bus to squeeze into. After a thorough inspection, the bus, with its ex­cited group of gospel singers, was allowed to enter the inner com­pound.

The Brooks-Christian Singers
The Brooks-Christian Singers

Amidst the searching eyes of onlooking inmates, the singers unloaded their equipment at the door of the prison chapel. Also with them were the representa­tives of the Fanta Sounds Record­ing Company, of Nashville, who had agreed to tape the service. (This tape will be made into an album which will be introduced at the 1972 General Assembly in Dallas.)

The services convened at 2:30 p.m. as the large crowd gathered into the small chapel. The pris­oners openly and warmly responded, and within minutes they were sending in requests for their favorite songs. They were smiling, lifting their hands, and praising God.

After the service, Brother Culp came forward to present a Bible to the man who had brought the most with him to the service. The recipient was an inmate who had brought twenty-five men.

Following the benediction, the singers personally met and talked with some of the men. The pris­oners shook hands with their guests, and some gave them to­kens of appreciation which they had made while in prison. Some of the men had been convicted of capital offenses, and many of these same men whose lives had been changed were eager to talk and to testify to the saving power of Jesus Christ.

Then it came time to leave. The prisoners volunteered to car­ry the singers’ instruments to the bus; and as the large vehicle pulled away, hundreds waved good-bye. For the singers, it was an occasion they would not soon forget.

This article originally appeared in the August 28, 1972 issue of Evangel.