It’s 1975, in a small West Texas town. The Band Director of the high school announces to the band and the baton twirlers that he has arranged and choreographed the 1936 Roy Acuff gospel song “Great Speckled Bird” for them to perform. I’ve got to believe that no similar announcement was ever made by another Band Director, anywhere.
Don’t read any further, though, without listening to the song first. Then try to imagine the embarrassed horror of being a 15 or 16 year old member of the band or twirling squad and having to perform this song, with appropriate choreography, on the football fields of other towns, in front of other 15 and 16 year olds, at halftime. As I’ve heard the story, the performers marched, twirled, and cringed, all at the same time.
The song was written by a Rev. Guy Smith. It is based on Jeremiah 12:9, “Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour.” Right off the bat, we have a 2500 year old metaphor that is being absurdly used in a mid-20th century context, and the attempts to make it work fail, I think, miserably. Look at some of the verses:
1. What a beautiful thought I am thinking
Concerning a great speckled bird
Remember her name is recorded
On the pages of God’s Holy Word.
2. All the other birds are flocking ’round her
And she is despised by the squad
But the great speckled bird in the Bible
Is one with the great church of God.
3. All the other churches are against her
They envy her glory and fame
They hate her because she is chosen
And has not denied Jesus’ name.
From Baptist Singing Conventions in the 30s, to the Grand Old Opry in the 50s, to football fields in Petrolia, Chico, and Alvord in the 70s, the Great Speckled Bird was both a testimony to Jesus and a psychological trauma for many Texas teens. Where else could a song achieve such a legacy?
Oh Texas, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways..