Let’s celebrate July 4th with the story behind a patriotic Southern Gospel song!
Songwriter Ben Storie grew up with virtually no exposure to Southern Gospel music. “The closest I came was when my church would sing some Gaither choruses as part of the praise and worship. But if it wasn’t in the hymn book, or it wasn’t a Gaither Chorus, then I really had not been exposed to it.”
In 1994, a young lady he knew, Tonya Norrid, invited him to fill in with her group for an event. Her family had toured for ten years, and wanted to enter a local talent contest. Her brother, who had sung with the group until that point, had moved on to other interests and did not want to travel. So Storie learned “Beulah Land” and “March Through the Water.” He recalls: “We entered this talent contest and won it!”
He ended up staying with the group—and marrying Tonya! They traveled under the name of Sweeter Rain for ten years. He recalls that they had some success in those years: “We did one recording with Jericho Records, which was on the Zion label, produced by Zane King. Then we did a project with Phil Cross and toured nationally with him and with the Ruppes. We had some measure of chart success, but after ten years, when our daughter Maggie was born, it had just kind of run its course.”
The Stories moved to Nashville, Tennessee so that he could pursue writing professionally. They lived there for three years and saw very little success. “It was a very frustrating time,” he recalls. “Right before I left Nashville, kind of as a last-ditch effort, I wrote and did some studio demos for about a dozen songs, and I took them to the National Quartet Convention. One of the nights, I handed it out to everybody. I’m sure there are probably like a few janitors with a copy of that CD!”
Discouraged by the lack of the response, he eventually moved home to Oklahoma. But even though nobody recorded any of the songs on that CD at the time, it included several songs that would eventually get recorded, including Liberty Quartet’s “Peace Like a River” and Gold City’s “I Love This Land.”
Gold City recorded “I Love This Land” on their 2008 album Moment of Truth. Their vocal lineup at that point was Steve Ladd, Bruce Taliaferro, Daniel Riley, and Aaron McCune; Bruce Taliaferro had the featured vocal on the song.
They performed the song as a tribute to America at the National Quartet Convention September 11, 2008. The performance was captured on video:
“I didn’t get to be there that year,” Storie recalls, “but a friend was taking pictures and texting me from the front row.”
He was humbled by the reaction the song received: “Gold City was performing a song that I wrote in my kitchen in my small apartment in Nashville, Tennessee, in front of this huge National Quartet Convention arena crowd, honoring the memory of folks who passed away in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s very humbling and overwhelming that I could be a part of encouraging somebody who had been through that kind of pain and hurt.”
“I think it’s just really beyond your scope of imagination as a writer,” he continues, “when you write songs in your car or living room, or a writer’s room at some publishing company on an off street in Nashville. You have no idea about the thousands and thousands and sometimes millions of people that can be encouraged or challenged or uplifted. It’s just very sobering when you actually consider. It’s kind of a heavy responsibility, but you really take it seriously. You’re responsible for not just entertaining, but saying something that’s going to make somebody’s day matter, or challenge them to dig deeper in their faith.”