Elmo Mercer’s Journey into Southern Gospel Music History

Where Are They Now?

February 2014, Singing News Magazine
(by Pat Barker)

Elmo Mercer

“A Glimpse of Jesus,” “Each Step I Take,” “We’ve Come to Lift up Jesus,” “What a Glad Reunion Day.”

If you’ve followed Gospel music, or even just sung during the congregational singing at a church service, there is a good chance you know at least one of those songs. Most likely, you know them all.

All of those songs are from the pen of Elmo Mercer. While he might not be the first person you think of when thinking through Southern Gospel history, Elmo has certainly earned his place.

Elmo’s musical journey began with two years of piano lessons while he was in the 4th and 5th grades. He became a church pianist at age 13; and he wrote his first song “A Glimpse of Jesus,” when he was 14.

“Whatever talent I have in composing, arranging or singing, it is a gift from the Lord,” says Elmo. “I am glad I chose to use this talent for His glory.”

Less than a year out of high school in 1951, Elmo signed his first staff writer’s contract with the John T.. Benson Publishing Company. On Jan. 1, 1961, Elmo moved with his wife and son to Nashville to become Music Editor for the company. He would work with the top names – including the top Benson writers and other noted names such as Bill Gaither and Jimmie Davis.

Elmo’s talents as a choral music arranger quickly became known throughout the church music and Gospel music worlds. His book Crusade Choir, Vol. I sold more than 500,000 copies across 22 years. He also published about two dozen instrumental books (for solo piano, solo organ, and piano and organ duets), edited the world-renowned New Songs of Inspiration songbook and 1979’s National Baptist Hymnal.

As a trivia note – and another accomplishment – Elmo orchestrated the first album recorded by a (then) 12-year-old singer named Mark Lowry.

August 1980 brought changes for Elmo. The Zondervan Corporation of Grand Rapids, Michigan, purchased the Benson Company and made it the Contemporary Christian music arm of the company. In early 1981 Elmo retired from Benson, and he and his wife Marcia began traveling nationwide in church music evangelism. He continued to do various arranging jobs “on the side” for Benson for 17 years; but he also began to do jobs for other publishers such as The Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway), Lorenz, Brentwood, and others.

After 30 years of traveling, the Mercers retired from road life in 2011. Since then he’s been the minister of music at Scottsboro First Baptist Church in northwestern Nashville.

The Lord willing, Elmo will turn 82 on Feb. 15, this year. Though he’s not as active in composing and arranging as he once was, he still “scratches the itch” every now and then as he helps friends with their musical efforts. In the meantime, he and Marcia enjoy spending time with their son Bill, daughter Kellye, seven grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

“We thoroughly enjoy life lived for the Lord,” says Elmo, “because as one of my songs says, ‘Each step we take just leads us closer home.’ You can’t beat that!”

– courtesy of Singing News Magazine, Feb. 2014. Written by Pat Barker

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