Country Throwback: Alan Jackson Belts ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ at the Ryman in Late 2000s

by Matthew Wilson
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Alan Jackson channels the gospel in this late 2000s throwback. The country singer gives himself over to the good lord with this soulful rendition of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

The Ryman Auditorium may not have a steeple. But Jackson turned the music venue into a church for himself and the thousands of adoring fans that turned up for his service. The singer imbued the tune with tenderness and respect. Though the song is almost two centuries old, Jackson made it entirely his own. He sang a countrified version of “What a friend we have in Jesus/ All our sins and griefs to bear/ What a privilege to carry/ Everything to God in prayer.

The song was just one of several gospel hymns that Jackson performed. In 2006, Jackson followed in the footsteps of many country music artists before him like Charley Pride. He decided to release a gospel album with some of his favorite songs. “Precious Memories” was Jackson’s first entry into the gospel music space. And it proved to be a good look for him.

The Alan Jackson Song is Almost 200 Years Old

Of course, many of Jackson’s songs from the album were much older than him. “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” dates all the way back to 1855. The origin of the song is about as emotional as the tune itself. Irish poet Joseph M. Scriven wrote the lyrics for his dear mom. The poet had been away in Canada and wanted to give her a bit of comfort.

The poet decided to publish the lyrics anonymously. It would be another 30 years until the poem was properly accredited. Long before Jackson sang it, composer and attorney Charles Crozat Converse put the tune to music in the 1880s.

Over the years, the hymn found increased popularity in churches across the globe. It became one of those Sunday morning staples. Additionally, artists have offered their own renditions of the tune including Brad Paisley, Ronnie Milsap, and Glen Campbell among others.

When Jackson decided to record “Precious Memories,” he had to include the hymn on the album. As part of the promotion, the country singer decided to put on a gospel concert at the Ryman. And he greeted audiences to a majestic performance of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

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