Homer A. Rodeheaver

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Homer A(lvan) Rodeheaver (1880-1955), songleader, composer, and music publisher, was born in 1880 in Union Furnace, Ohio in the rural, south-central part of the state. The family moved to Tennessee when he was a young child where his father worked in the lumber industry. Rodeheaver had begun playing the cornet as a youth but switched to the trombone during a brief time studying at Ohio Wesleyan College before the Spanish-American War began. Enlisting with the Fourth Tennessee Regiment he quickly found his way to the regiment band. After the war he again spent a short time at Ohio Wesleyan but did not graduate.

In 1904 he joined evangelist W.E. Biederwolf as his songleader, staying in that role for six years. In 1910 Rodeheaver joined the up-and-coming evangelist Billy Sunday in the same position and accompanied him during his record-breaking revivals during the teens and the early 1920s. As songleader, Rodeheaver was a perfect compliment for the exuberant Sunday, warming up revival audiences with peppy gospel numbers (many of his own composition), stories, and jokes. Rodeheaver was with Sunday for twenty years and during that time parlayed his exposure and reputation into a series of musical enterprises (Rodeheaver-Hall-Mack Publishing) including revival song books, instrumental, vocal, and songleading instruction books, and sheet music sales.

While he wrote a number of gospel songs (his most famous probably being “When Jesus Came,”) Rodeheaver was not a prolific composer; he served more of a role through his public appearances and business ventures in popularizing songs and commissioning other composers (such as B.D. Ackley) to write new gospel songs. Additionally, Rodeheaver recorded over 500 songs for any number of record companies over the years, beginning with Victor Talking Machine in 1914. His Rainbow Records, founded in 1922, was the first exclusively gospel record label. From 1930 until shortly before his death in 1955, Rodeheaver remained the leading musical figure in conservative Protestant circles through his music publishing efforts and his Rodeheaver Summer School of Sacred Music held each year at the Billy Sunday campgrounds in Winona Lake, IN.

For further reading see, Lyle W. Dorsett, Billy Sunday and the Redemption of Urban America (Eerdmans, 1991), and, Homer A. Rodeheaver, Twenty Years with Billy Sunday (Cokesbury, 1936). 

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