Up until a few weeks ago, Ann Ballard was just a name on songwriter credits to me. I knew she’d written four Cathedrals songs (“It’s Almost Over,” “Land of Living,” “Roll Away Troubled River,” and “Scars and Stripes”) and a number of other easily recognizable songs, such as “Treasures Unseen,” “Gentle Shepherd,” and “It’ll Be Joy.” But that was all I knew.
In a recent conversation with Dianne Wilkinson, she mentioned having known Ann for decades, since well before either were discovered. She was gracious enough to put me in touch with Ann and arrange this interview. So sit back and watch the writer of some of your favorite songs become more than just a name!
Daniel: Many of my readers faithfully read album credits, but for those who don’t, you were a staff writer for Canaan in the ’70s and ’80s. What were some of the highlights of those years for you – some of the song cuts readers might recognize, and any honors those songs received?
Ann: The first thing that stands out is the fact that suddenly I was being called a professional song writer and was so lovingly accepted by the wonderful crew at the Canaan office!! I have no long drawn out story of struggling for my songs to be heard.
I took “It’ll Be Joy” to a friend and asked him to listen to it and tell me if it stood a chance in the “BIG BALL PARK”….he listened, picked up the phone and called Aaron Brown, head of the Canaanland office, played it for him and put me on the phone at which time I was looking for a hole in the floor!!
Aaron introduced himself and told me he wanted to publish it….I didn’t believe him!!
I began writing and going to Nashville with my tunes and in just a very short time I was getting cuts all over the place….
Some of my most recognized songs would be “Treasures Unseen”….”Land Of Living”….”It’s Almost Over”….”Gentle Shepherd”……”Oh What A Sunrise.”
Daniel: What sparked your interest in songwriting?
Ann: I never thought much about writing…only playing piano and singing..Writing didn’t begin until I was in my thirties….I made up songs in my childhood but all kids do that.
Daniel: I understand, via Dianne Wilkinson, that you toured and sang with a group in the 1970s, as she also did. What was the name of the group, and what part did you sing? Did you debut some of the songs we know now with this group?
Yes, we did have a group called The Monarchs ..we sang on the week-ends and then we were singing Thursday through Sunday evenings…ha. We became pretty busy and loved it.
Daniel: How did you become a staff writer with Canaan? Did you have some independent cuts previously that came to their attention?
Ann: The “It’ll Be Joy” story just about covers it….They had never heard of Ann Ballard and I didn’t come close to having a contact before this…
Daniel: Which song was your first cut?
Ann: It’ll Be Joy was my first cut, followed by “Oh What A Sunrise.” I had more than one group do both. Oh What A Sunrise was written in Memory of my Papa Jo….My Mother’s Dad. It is sung many places now for funerals, as well as one called “Meet Me There.”
Daniel: You had four Cathedrals cuts that I’m aware of (please let me know if I’m missing any) – “Roll Away Troubled River” in 1980, “It’s Almost Over” in 1984, and “Land of Living” and “Scars and Stripes” in 1987. Even if it was only a handful of cuts, most Southern Gospel fans remember these four songs today–the original renditions and the numerous remakes. Do you remember what inspired any of those songs?
Ann: Many times my inspiration came from simply sitting down at my piano and just letting my heart began to feel and speak…the words and melody always comes at the same time.
Daniel: There is one other song I can’t pass up bringing up. The Florida Boys cut “Treasures Unseen” in 1977, and Greater Vision recently brought it back. What inspired that song?
Ann: Actually my Pastor, at the time…His message was that very subject…Treasures Unseen…I went home after Church and wrote it…I didn’t know it would do what it has…I was surprised!
Daniel: Which of your songs has been cut the most times? Which do you think it most likely people will still be singing a generation from now?
Ann: Again, Treasures Unseen would rank right up there…I suspose Oh What A Sunrise, Land Of Living among others….
Daniel: If this is a different song, which of your songs has meant the most to you personally? Which would you most like people to remember a generation from now? And why?
Ann: This is a tough one for any writer to answer, but I guess you know that..ha. Land Of Living is special….Oh What A Sunrise….right now I’m loving the Perry’s cut on Gentle Shepherd and Mark Trammel’s cut on It’s Almost Over….both groups did a wonderful job on the songs and I love Mark and Libbi. The Perrys come to my hometown and I always enjoy them so much.
Daniel: What have you been doing in the years since the ’80s? Do you still write?
Ann: In the 80s my Mom and Dad needed me much of the time…I helped care for them and when Dad passed away I lived with Mom so much…then along came our precious Sammi Jo, our Son’s little girl and Jim and I helped with her and still do…she is now 7 years old and in school!! I have written some but not full time…I hope to get back to it one of these days.
Daniel: I understand that songwriter Cyndi Ballard is your daughter. Did you teach her to write? What are some of her songs that readers might recognize?
Ann: About our daughter Cindi….No, I didn’t have to help her…ha….she is a great writer all on her own. She has written with Phil Cross, Jeff Steel, Wayne Haune, Joel Lindsey as well as many others. Some of her tunes you might know: “There Will Come A Day” (Brian Free), “I Will Find You Again” (Perrys), “Storms I Never See” (Legacy Five)…I could go on but I won’t. She did win a Dove for Song of the Year a few years back….
Daniel: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Ann: We could sit down together and talk for hours about all this, as you know, but I have hit the highlights as well as I could.
Cindi and I went to hear Signature Sound last Saturday evening here in Jonesboro….they are so great. Wayne Haune and Cindi worked at DayWind together for a few years and formed a sweet friendship so Wayne called her and told her to come so they could see each other. We both went and they are doing a Tribute Tour on the Cathedrals and it is amazing. George and Glen were my friends and I really appreciate the way they are presenting them.
You don’t need to use this in your article but I will list a few of the groups who have recorded my tunes just so you will know a little more into on me and so-called career…ha!
- Dixie Echoes
- Wendy Bagwell
- Florida Boys
- Greater Vision
- Poet Voices
- Lewis Family
- Walt Mills
- Jimmy Davis
- Cumberland Boys
- Ernie Haase
- Chuck Wagon Gang
- Mark Trammell
There are more but I won’t bore you any further.
Daniel: This sort of thing doesn’t bore me! Thank you so much for agreeing to the interview, and for all the fascinating information!