The man once called “Americas favorite gospel song stylist”, Rev. Harold Jackson “Jack” Holcomb, has been gone for over 40 years, but his albums are as popular today as they were in his fifteen-year recording career. Here in this space I will share what I have learned about Jack Holcomb, information that has not been easy to find because Jack has been gone since July 1968, long before there was a World Wide Web. Many people have joined with me and helped to build up this web site, and I hope you will, too. We want this to be a resource for people who are interested in knowing more about a fellow Christian who loved his Lord and raised his voice in songs of praise his whole life long.
Available on this web site are three special resources: a Discography of all of Jack's albums, which lists format, year published, publisher, and CAS number; there is also a complete Song Listing with all of Jack's songs listed in alphabetical order and searchable so that you can find that special song you remember; and lastly there is the list of information snippets below, taken from articles or testimonies or Jack's own words, telling more about the life of a great gospel singer, preacher, storyteller, and evangelist so that his story and music may continue to bless others as they have blessed you and me.
by evangelist Harold Clayton of Houston
I'll never forget Brother Jack Holcomb, who lived in Waco, Texas. He is in Heaven now, but he was a great tenor. I don't think he ever wrote a song, but he could pick up any songbook and start singing. He had a tear in his voice, but you could understand every word he sang. He would sing awhile, preach awhile, then go back to singing.
One time while at my church he told about his little girl. One night after supper, but still sitting at the kitchen table, his little girl somehow fell out of her high chair, hit her head on the floor, and died.
Before the funeral service, a tornado went through downtown Waco, killing many people and destroying many buildings, including the funeral home.
Brother Holcomb said, “When the storm passed by, I went down to the funeral home. In the midst of all that wreckage and debris, I couldn't find my little girl's body. I bowed my head and prayed, 'O Lord God, please, I know my little girl is safe in the arms of Jesus, but I sure would like to bury her body. Would You help me find her?'
“While I was praying, the Lord impressed me to get in the car, drive to the cemetery out on Interstate 35. When I got there, hundreds of others were there. Caskets of people killed in the tornado were lined up. I walked down that long row of caskets and found my little girl.”
As soon as he ended this story, he broke out singing:
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.
If you trust and never doubt,
He will surely bring you out;
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.
As soon as he finished that song, he started singing:
Singing I go along life's road;
Praising the Lord! Praising the Lord!
Singing I go along life's road,
For Jesus has lifted my load.
With all Brother Holcomb had been through, he trusted the Lord and kept on singing.
Sometimes we think we have it bad. But look around. You will see folks who have it a lot worse.
Excerpt from http://www.swordofthelord.com/Archives/1016cast.htm
Five years ago, a great tragedy occurred in the home of the Jack Holcombs. A fatal accident took the life of little two-year-old Jo Ellen, their only daughter. That event had a profound effect upon the evangelistic ministry of Jack Holcomb.
Music began to take form as a major part of his evangelistic effort. He became America's newest Gospel song stylist. The pulpit became a secondary thing for him in winning people to Christ.
Jack has preached and sung in every state in the union. Much of his effort, however, in church and city-wide campaigns over the country has lessened the past four or five years as he devoted more and more of his time to Television and Radio.
Since 1953, Jack has presented the TV Revivla hour, first in Atlanta, GA, and for the past year and one-half in Hollywood over Station KCOP (Channel 13) each Sunday.
Jack, at 36, ia a vigorous personality, as much at home in the pulpit as in the singer's role. His versatility has brought him, not only a large following, but also made him unique in the evangelistic field.
Jack loves the Gospel songs, for in its true meaning Gospel means good news. It addresses men and tells a story or passes on a suggestion or experience of spiritual benefit. And, generally speaking, the Gospel song is more personal in nature than a hymn. Maybe because of that, Jack has a preference for the Gospel songs, for he is at home among people.
Incidentally, Jack is married and resides with his wife and young son, Jackie, in Hollywood.
From the album jacket of Gospel Songs by Sacred Records, 1958.
© 2003 Cox Newspapers, Inc. - The Longview News-Journal
Remebering Jack Fans raise money to mark grave of singing preacher By TERRI JO RYAN
WACO — Deposited in a humble patch of soil at Waco Memorial Park, unacknowledged save for a few sentimental souls who collect his records, are the earthly remains of Jack Holcomb, “the singing preacher” of 1950s fame.
Now a handful of local fans in Central Texas are conspiring to collect enough money for a suitable brass grave marker to keep their musical hero from sinking into complete obscurity.
The musician and Waco native, ordained as the Rev. Harold Jackson Holcomb, died 35 years ago at age 46 after performing at a revival service in Dallas.
He battled heart disease for a decade before his death, and the illness sapped every penny of the family's meager savings, his widow recalls.
Ellen Holcomb, 83, said she is deeply touched by the “kindness of strangers,” the men who want to raise funds to purchase a marker for her late husband.
“I think that it is absolutely wonderful that these people would even think about remembering Jack this way,” said his widow, who has lived in Austin for almost 30 years. “It's very, very sweet of them.”
Holcomb is buried to the left of his daughter, Jo Ellen, who died at age 18 months because of a fall from her high chair. She died only days before the infamous Waco tornado struck on May 11, 1953, and her body was lost for a time in the ruins of the demolished funeral home.
The toddler was eventually found at the cemetery, where people aiding in the tornado cleanup had brought all corpses they'd found, Ellen Holcomb said.
Today Jo Ellen's grave is marked, but “the singing preacher” later buried alongside her has not even the slightest stone to commemorate his existence.
The Jack Holcomb Fund at Parkview Baptist Church in Waco has been established to collect an estimated $2,500 to make a plate for not only the late singer's grave but for his wife to join him someday.
The Rev. John Collier, Parkview pastor, and Roger Olson, theology professor for the George W. Truett Seminary at Baylor University, are coordinating the effort.
Olson, 51, has a sweet spot for the tender tenor who sang “with a tear in his voice.”
To hear yet more of the old-time religious music of his youth, Olson has done battle on the Internet auction site eBay, vying for rare recordings of the Southern gospel great.
Plenty of those recordings exist, too, including “Jack Holcomb Sings&rdquo (1955), “I Hear a Song in My Heart” (1957), “I Asked the Lord” (1960), and, on RCA in 1963, “Mr. Gospel Music.”
An Iowa native, Olson has been in Waco almost four years. He says he was delighted to move to the hometown of his father's favorite sacred singer. But he was also shocked to discover the performer who had a national following for more than 15 years rested in peace anonymously.
“He's practically forgotten, but he can't have been totally forgotten, because people get into bidding wars for his records on eBay,” Olson said. “The man's got devotees.”
The scratchy, low-tech records aren't up to modern standards, Olson admits, but that is part of their charm. They evoke the simple, churchy compositions known then as “inspirationals” or “sacred music,” tunes pounded out in country chapels on simple instruments.
Jack Holcomb was a speaker and singer for the nationwide movement Youth for Christ, and he also performed on radio and television in Southern California for a preacher named Jack Shuler, an evangelist who was a contemporary of Billy Graham, Olson said.
Collier said Jack Holcomb, an Assembly of God preacher who recorded for Waco's Word label, “had an ability to sing from his heart to your heart. His walk with the Lord became a part of your walk with the Lord.”
Holcomb's sister, Virginia Watson, worshipped at Parkview until her death in 2001, Collier said.
Ellen Holcomb said that at the time of her husband's death in 1968 she had a son, 14-year-old Jack Jr., and an adopted daughter, 8-year-old Joi Kim, so she had to work two or three jobs just to pay bills. She didn't have the money for a grave marker then, but her husband would have approved of her placing the needs of the living above a duty to the dead.
“I had to take care of the kiddoes,” she said.
She worked for the Texas Retail Grocery Association and was eventually named manager of its coupon redemption center. She worked in a store nights and weekends, and assumed typing chores in her spare time.
“God has been kind. We made it,” she said. “And we never had to go on welfare. God has been very gracious to us.”
Jack Holcomb's last album cover, “Dearest to my Heart”, showed him with his son, Jackie, who later graduated from Baylor Law School. This album was made just three weeks before his death.
Jackie was afflicted with juvenile diabetes at age 18. Nonetheless, he practiced as a trial attorney for many years until he was incapacitated by two strokes and a coronary triple bypass at age 46. He has lived in his mother's care for four years now.
Olson, who is trying to prompt a revival of interest in Jack Holcomb, said the man was known for breaking into song in the middle of a sermon or for injecting a sermon into a medley of songs. His emotionally evocative style, Olson said, was popular among evangelical Christians nationwide.
The Truett academic says that when he and other fans are ready to place the marker, he hopes to organize a musical religious service for the occasion featuring, naturally, the song stylings of Jack Holcomb.
Olson notes that many of Holcomb's albums and their songs employ 'I' in the title, reflecting the emphasis in those days on a more personal relationship with the divine rather than a community salvation.
“This was the music of the poor, this was the music of the meek,” Olson said. “Their hope was in heaven, not here.”
Resting place of “singing preacher” marked
© 2004 Cox Newspapers, Inc. - The Longview News-Journal
January 25, 2004
WACO, Texas- The grave of a Waco native who gained fame in the 1950s as the “singing preacher” has been marked with a plaque, 35 years after he died.
A red marble and bronze marker honoring the Rev. Harold Jackson Holcomb was unveiled before a small group of family, friends and fans Saturday at Waco Memorial Park.
Holcomb died of heart disease at age 46 on July 13, 1968. He was buried next to his 18-month-old daughter, who died in 1953.
Roger Olson, a theology professor at the George W. Truett Seminary at Baylor University and a fan of Holcomb's music, said he was surprised to learn that Holcomb had lived and was buried in Waco.
“I came out here, but I couldn't find it anywhere,” Olson said in Sunday editions of the Waco Tribune-Herald. “I went to the office, and they told me where he was buried, but that he didn't have a marker. I decided we had to do something about that.”
Olson and another preacher began collecting $2,500 needed to buy the marker, but the cemetery recently came forward and offered to place a monument at the grave for free.
Gospel recording artist Jack Holcomb (Harold Jackson Holcomb) was born and raised in Waco, Texas. After living in California where he hosted a radio program and served as evangelist Jack Shuller's song leader he returned to Waco. In Waco he recorded gospel music albums for Word Records and traveled around the country preaching and singing at Youth for Christ rallies and in churches and meetings of various kinds. In 1963 RCA named him “Mr. Gospel Music.” At that time he was without doubt one of the best known and loved Christian recording artists in the United States.
Jack Holcomb's life was a tragic one. He was raised in extreme poverty. His first wife died just a few years after their marriage. He remarried, but in 1953 his first child, little girl of eighteen months named Jo Ellen, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Jack often told the story of looking for her body in the little casket in downtown Waco after the terrible tornado that struck and destroyed the funeral home and all of downtown Waco. He finally found her body at the cemetery where bodies had been taken.
Jack had a bad heart; throughout the 1960s he suffered heart attacks and then congestive heart failure. Through it all he sang and recorded beloved gospel songs such as “Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There.” In the summer of 1968, when Jack was only 47 years old, he recorded his last album entitled “Dearest to My Heart” which featured a picture of Jack and his son Jackie on the cover. Within weeks (July) Jack died of heart failure in a hotel in Dallas where he was meeting with recording company executives to plan his next project.
Jack was buried next to his daughter in Waco Memorial Park on interstate 35 just south of Waco. His wife Ellen was penniless due to the enormous medical bills and Jack's inability to travel the last few months of his life. She never could afford a grave marker for him, so he lay in an unmarked grave until 2004.
In the summer of 2003 I (Roger Olson) discovered that my father's favorite gospel recording artist Jack Holcomb was buried in the city to which I had recently moved from St. Paul, Minnesota. I immediately went out to the cemetery to find his grave and could not find it. (I knew which section it was in and found his daughter's grave but not Jack's.) The cemetery office informed me that his grave was unmarked. I immediately began trying to raise money to purchase a marker for “Mr. Gospel Music.” With Mrs. Holcomb's blessing (she never remarried) I got the local newspaper involved; they published a very nice story about Jack Holcomb and his unmarked grave. Within weeks a local church got on board and together we began raising money.
Money began to come in from Jack's fans all over the world, but it appeared it would take many months to raise all of the funds needed. Then the cemetery and grave marker manufacturer volunteered to donate a beautiful granite and metal grave marker for both Jack and his wife Ellen. (Ellen has a burial plot next to Jack and their daughter.) The money raised was given to Mrs. Holcomb at the dedication of the grave marker on January 17, 2004. Their son Jack, Jr. ("Jackie") and daughter Joi Kim (adopted from Korea with the help of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans) were present. I was able to give Jackie a copy of his father's last album featuring himself as a thirteen year old boy with his dad just weeks before his dad's death. He did not own a copy of his own.
Roger E. Olson
My name is Joi Holcomb. I am Jack Holcomb's daughter. My mother, Ellen, and I are aware of how many people still care about my Dad and his family. As was so apparent with the beautiful headstone his friends and fans gave to us for him and my mom.
We wanted to let you know that Jack, his son, passed away Saturday, Dec. 31 . He had type 1 diabetes since he was 18 and over the years it took it's toll. Five years ago he suffered several strokes and became disabled, unable to work. He passed at home, as he wished.
The services will be in Waco at Waco Memorial Park and he will be buried between my mother's plot and my older sister, who died before my brother was born. Funeral time and date are not yet finalized, but will probably be Saturday.
I will post the time and date as soon as we know for sure. Anyone wishing to send a card may send it to:
Thanks for keeping my Dad's memory alive.
Harold Jackson Holcomb II passed away on December 31, 2005, in Austin, Tex. He was 52. Jack was born July 22, 1953, in Waco TX and graduated from University High School in 1971. He went to Baylor Law School and graduated in 1982. He married Margaret Hand and they made their home in Waco TX . Like so many couples, they took separate paths in life after a few years. He practiced law in Waco for several years before moving to Austin. He began working for the IRS in the 1990's where he became involved in the employees union. Jack was preceded in death by his father, Jack Holcomb, and his older sister, JoEllen. He is survived by his mother, Ellen Holcomb, and his sister, Joi Holcomb.
My mother, Sarah, first met Jack's widow Ellen when mother was with Texas Retail Grocer's Association; Ellen came to work for TRGA after mom did, but they shared many, many miles together of laughter and tears. As a young child whenever mom went out of town on business, I usually went with her and always clung to Aunt Ellen- and the string of pearls she always wore- for walks outside the convention centers or for naps in a hotel room somewhere.
When Jack died, mother was about the first person Ellen called: Jack happened to die on my parent's first wedding anniversary. Mother and dad rushed to their home and helped Ellen make arrangements to get Jack back to Waco. My longtime friend and former professor, Rev. Henry Apperson, was with Jack (I think in Dallas at a conference or revival) when he passed away and still marvals at Jack's voice.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I finally found some information on "Jack Holcomb," and it was on your site. I just got through reading almost all of it. It touched my heart deeply. I just want to be added to your number of people who admired Jack throughout my life.
I was burned by high voltage (115,000 volts) on January 28, 1967 at exactly 12:52 p.m. I have a long story to tell, but will be very brief. I was raised the third born son of a church of christ preacher. It was a legalistic organization through and through. The burn accident was the "start" of God's providential care and leading in my life.
Even though my parents were raised in that garbage, they finally got out of it, and my dad died a believer in everything that God really does have for us. My mom is still alive. So....How does Jack Holcomb figure in all this?
I remember the days that I spent (many months) in the hospital totally unable to move. My parents brought me a "hi-fi" record player and some "Jack Holcomb" records. I think Jack might even deserve credit for getting me through many bad days as I lay there in the hospital. I played his songs over and over and over, and then people would restack them on the portable hi-fi.
I somehow KNEW that there was something special about Jack. I just KNEW that there was something that he had that all the people I was surrounded with didn't have. Now I know what that was. I thank God for that, and I also thank Jack for being a part of that.
I too have had a few heart attacks - eight to be exact. The seventh one culminated in a "quintuple" bypass, but God has a plan for my life and He will get it done.
I just wanted to write and say "thank you" for what you have done by putting your website on for everyone to use. I sure wish there were CD's available of Jack's music.
The song "Have I Done My Best For Jesus" has been played every night at sign-off time on KNOF-FM 95.3 for almost 45 year now. I was a part time radio announcer there for 23 years. He had a wonderful voice. He was my dad's favorite singer.