Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University and pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeye baseball team from 1971 through 1974.  He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league league umpire for seven years, working in the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA).  He has written for numerous websites and outdoor publications, and for the past ten years has served as a regular columnist and photo editor for Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press.  Widely knowledgeable on that period of American History, Fulks is a frequent speaker on the Civil War at local roundtables throughout the Midwest. He and wife Mindy have two grown children and live in Covington, Ohio.

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When Carrie Underwood sang it at last week’s CMA Awards, it awakened millions of people to one of gospel music’s best, and best-loved, hymns. But as good as Carrie’s version was…there’s one I think better, and one you really should hear.

I didn’t watch the CMA (Country Music Association) Awards show last week. I don’t remember ever watching it, in fact. Award shows don’t do that much for me.

But a lot of my friends and family did watch. And when Carrie Underwood performed the old hymn Softly and Tenderly as a tribute to deceased country stars in 2017 – and to the victims of the Las Vegas shooting – my phone began to light up with texts.

Many of those people were trying to contact me.

“Are you watching the CMAs and Carrie Underwood?,” said a friend from Ironton, Ohio. “You need to hear her sing Softly and Tenderly.”

Another wrote, “Wow, you should hear Carrie Underwood sing Softly and Tenderly. What a voice.”

“You’ll cry your eyes out,” texted an old baseball friend in Franklin, Tennessee. “I bet you love that song.”

And I do love that song – Softly and Tenderly – as I heard it so often as a child growing up in the Bible Belt of southeast Ohio. Every Baptist church played and sang it as an invitational hymn, or altar call, at the end of the service. And fifty years later, many here do, still.

The song is old, composed in 1880 by William L. Thompson, who born in East Liverpool, Ohio, later graduated from Mount Union College before studying at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Carrie Underwood, as she performed at last week’s CMA Awards.

Thompson was a member of the Churches of Christ in that day, and tried his hand writing secular music for several years before turning to, and finding a willing audience, with gospel genre. In fact, he penned several hymns that have endured for the past hundred years, but none as well-loved, and as identified, as Softly and Tenderly.

It is a tear-jerker; and when Underwood performed it last week she, too, broke down with emotion, largely for the fact of her tribute to so many who lost their lives recently in such a tragic way.

But…I’ve listened to Underwood’s powerful and crystal-clear voice as she did the song, and she’s wonderful.  However, I will swear to you here that there’s a version of it that I like even better.

If you go to YouTube and type in Charlie Daniel’s name, the fiddle player, you’ll hear him perform the song at George Jones’ funeral in April of 2013, at the Grand Ol’ Opry. Daniels’ voice is not as polished as Underwood’s – not as pretty – with that wide vibrato of his.  But the sincerity with which he sings, the phrasing he uses, the customary hat, jeans and boots…and the country band accompaniment with strings and steel guitar brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. And, I listen to that tune often, because I believe…and I love the simple, classic country sound.

Another reason that I like the Daniels’ version is that he’s up there in years. Born in October of 1936, Charlie just turned 81 years old, and he performs the song as if he knows he’s very near to his own calling.

Here it is (above)…so you won’t have to go to YouTube.  Click and listen, and please, resist the temptation to close out of this.  Hear Charlie Daniels sing and speak the words of a song that Carrie Underwood is going to make very popular.  William L. Thompson never knew that appreciation for his song would come in this manner.

And if I ever get to meet Charlie Daniels I’m going to make it a point to tell him – he wouldn’t look as good in the gown that Carrie wore, but he sure breaks my heart when he sings…Softly and Tenderly!

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