Monday, March 08, 2010


World's Best Bass Singer Falls Silent


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The Bass That Made Tinney Chapel Famous

JOHN D. McELYEA DIED SUNDAY, after a long illness that, after much time and after much evolution, gradually wore down this man of great strength, great wisdom and—perhaps above all—great spirituality. His understanding of the Bible was rooted in the translation authorized by King James, and his references to the New Testament Gospels included Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke and Saint John. Any mention of a Gospel without the evangelist’s title of Saint, might prompt him to ask for clarity.

HIS GREATEST SPIRITUAL GIFT WAS HIS VOICE, a deep bass that far exceeded those commercial artists who claimed to have the lowest bass on the planet, even those who rattled the highest rafters and set off seismic shifts underfoot. In his prime, John D.’s bass was the deepest of the deep, the purest of the pure, and the untarnished pride of the quintessential choir at Tinney Chapel United Methodist Church, which often called on him to enhance the low notes of such songs as Heaven Came Down And Glory Filled My Soul.

THAT SONG WAS ON THE PROGRAM the weekend that Tinney Chapel was completing something called the Vision And Values Workshop (VVW), an event that set this church on the road to two subsequent awards for Best In Rural Ministry from the North Texas Methodist Conference. On that Sunday worship program in September, 2000, John D.’s voice was at its most resonant when the two VVW facilitators—Richard Hearne and Don Renshaw—came to evaluate our service.

RENSHAW WAS ALSO A FORMER DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT who had himself once sang bass in his own church, and he was blown away by this musical performance. As soon as the service ended, Renshaw demanded of no one in particular and everyone in general: “WHO WAS THAT BASS SINGER?” Renshaw and John D. did meet on that day, and enjoyed the kind of conversation reserved for two masters of the same great gift. It was a day to remember for all of us!

JOHN D. OCCASIONALLY PERFORMED BASS SOLO specials for our church, and on patriotic holidays recited That Ragged Old Flag, a song-poem made famous by Johnny Cash. Perhaps the highlight of John D.’s musical ministry was the day he sang at his own father’s funeral service, so it’s fitting that John D.’s choir mate and long-time friend, Ronny Ellison, a tenor, will sing at John D.'s funeral service on Wednesday, March 10.

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