James and Ellen White stayed in taverns as they travelled to support the new believers of the early Sabbath-keeping Adventist movement. Taverns in north-eastern USA in the 1850s were like motels today and had a central place where people gathered to eat and drink, play games, socialise and sing. James and Ellen were good singers and often entertained other guests with cultural and spiritual songs. Apparently they were so good that some tavern owners donated meals and accommodation. The Whites were singing evangelists—using whatever talents they had to share God’s last day message.
Early Adventist music was very vibrant. James White wrote in his autobiography, “It is a fact that there was in those days a power in what was called Advent singing, such as was felt in no other.”1 Later, William A Spicer, once a General Conference president, wrote, “I remember well, as a boy, in our church waiting for the preacher . . . Then suddenly the silence would be broken by a sweetly musical and strong, sure voice, singing a familiar hymn. I can see the singer now, James White, silver-haired, coming down the aisle, beating time on his Bible, and singing . . .”2
The early Adventist hymn music had a number of different styles, but most followed the popular upbeat style of the time. The song lyrics highlighted their beliefs and hope, including aspects of the special message. Here is a chorus of one song about tobacco and health reform: “Chewing! Smoking! Spitting! Choking! Sending clouds whirling in everybody’s face. Chewing in the parlour, spitting on the floor, is there such enslavement? Is there such a bore?”
The Adventist message should always be sung in ways that reach the intended audience. Let’s recapture our pioneers’ spirit and hope—even in our singing.
“You will see your Lord a coming in a few more days!”