NASHVILLE – Prolific Baptist composer and hymn writer Buryl Red died April 1 at the age of 76.
Red was the founding musical director and conductor of The CenturyMen, a men’s choir made up of Baptist church music directors from around the world. Since their founding in 1969, The CenturyMen have performed across the U.S. and in at least 11 other countries, according to thecenturymen.com.
When The CenturyMen’s recording “Beautiful Star – A Celebration of Christmas” was nominated for a Grammy in 2000, Red told Baptist Press, “We see our work as a way to communicate the message of Christ with the secular world. I feel like our music can communicate beyond the musical language of the church.”
In addition to his work with The CenturyMen, Red is perhaps best remembered as composer of “Celebrate Life,” a musical created with lyricist Ragan Courtney, considered a landmark in church music. Released in 1972, Celebrate Life is still in print, sold by LifeWay Worship, the music division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
LifeWay worship director Mike Harland remembered Red in a blog post April 2.
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw a set of drums in a church,” Harland wrote. “It was there to be part of the groundbreaking youth musical, Celebrate Life.
“And, I’ll never forget the first time I saw an accompaniment track – it was in my church – Tate Street Baptist Church in Corinth, Miss. It was on a ‘reel to reel’ deck, and with it we sang Buryl’s classic collection ‘The Old Songs’ – another groundbreaking idea. Imagine modern, rhythmic versions of old hymns for a new generation – just who did that first? Not Chris Tomlin – no, it was Buryl Red.”
Harland also credited Red with introducing Baptists to the style of modern worship music that came out of the Jesus Movement in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“[Red] loved virtually every style of music,” Harland wrote. “As long as the presentations of it reached a level of excellence befitting the glorious Savior we love.”
The song “In Remembrance” from Celebrate Life has become a standard and is included in the latest edition of the Baptist Hymnal. Red conducted a choral performance of the song at the hymnal’s dedication ceremony in 2008, calling it “a highlight of his career,” Harland recounted.
Red’s output includes more than 2,500 published works; production of more than 4,000 recordings; the musical supervision, composition and arranging for several hundred shows, documentaries and musical specials for network and cable television; and the writing and editing of more than 50 music textbooks, according to information from a working program for an upcoming concert in Red’s honor.
A native of Little Rock, Ark., Red graduated from the music schools of Baylor University and Yale University before making his home in New York City. In the early ‘60s, he served as music minister of Manhattan Baptist Church, the first Southern Baptist Church in New York City.
An April 2 email from Diane Cobb, executive secretary of the Church Music Publishers Association, of which Red was a member, described a man who was considered a mentor by many.
“He was funny without trying to be or even knowing that he was,” Cobb wrote. “… Unpretentious, championed all instruments in the church before it was popular to do so, was brilliant, listened well, loved God, loved his lovely wife Virginia and family, and was kind … he was the real deal.”
Red died in New York City, after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Virginia, son Eric and grandson Adrian. A private funeral will be held April 9 in Manhattan. A memorial tribute concert is planned for April 29 at Central Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The CenturyMen, c/o Kim Bowen, 1610 Russell Avenue, Jefferson City, TN 37760, or to The Broadway Inspirational Voices, c/o Michael Reeves Associates, 224 West 30th Street, Suite 1006 New York, NY 10001.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Erlanson is operations coordinator for Baptist Press. Martin King, director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources, contributed to this report.)