Eleanor Wright: Songs in the Night

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February 25, 2019

Have you ever gotten out of bed in the morning with a song on your lips? Eleanor Wright got out of bed many mornings with a song, a new song, in her heart and on her lips. Over 200 new and original songs came to her during the night. Many times she had to reach for something, a brown paper bag, a napkin, anything on which to write the words of the song that God gave her while she was lying in bed. Often she would write the words on a shred of paper while still in bed tapping out the tempo.1 It was like the text in Psalm 77:6 "I called to remembrance my song in the night."

Eleanor Crews was born on November 20, 1926, in Dayton, Ohio. Her parents, Elnora and William Crews, noticed at an early age that Eleanor had a special musical gift but since they had fourteen children (Eleanor was the twelfth and the last daughter), they were unable to afford formal music lessons. Her older brothers, also musical, tried to help her by teaching her the notes of the piano.

Eleanor Crews and her large family. Photo courtesy of the Wright family.


Her father, William H. Crews, was a Church of God in Christ minister who boldly proclaimed the gospel through a small store front church and a Saturday night street corner ministry. Her mother, Elnora Bell Slaughter Crews, was a devoted wife and mother of her fourteen children who also took in another child who needed her help. She did laundry to contribute to the household income, and she encouraged each of her children to play a musical instrument.2

Living in Dayton at the same time was a young man, Harold J. Wright (born on April 6, 1926), who also came from a very musical family. He worked in a funeral home next door to the Crews’ home and noticed this young lady. They dated for about a year and in 1945, both 18 years old, Harold and Eleanor were married.

Eleanor was blessed by marrying into such a musical family. Harold’s parents, Willa V. and Nathan Monroe Wright had been Methodists and Nathan had been a Methodist Sunday School superintendent. When Nathan later joined the Adventist Church he determined that the seven children of the family (Dale, William, Paul, Eileen, Harold, Audrey and Walter) would know the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy, and all would be saved. Willa became a Bible worker and would travel out of state each summer to work in evangelistic meetings. Their baby son, Walter, when telling of the impact his father and mother had in his life, explained it this way:

“The evening meal was very important in our home. We were all expected to be at the table for supper. We were poor, and Daddy worked very hard. He would leave home at 5:00 every morning, but he was back by evening and expected us all to be there, too. Sitting around the table we solved all the family's problems as well as the weightier matters of the world.

"Right after we'd eaten, it was time for family worship. Every night Daddy would gather us around him, and we'd sing and he would read something either from the Bible or Ellen White, and then he'd pray. And what a prayer — it was always powerful! Daddy used to talk to God like he knew Him as a friend. He would thank God for His blessings, and then he would tell Him all about us. There were seven of us, so we had our needs and problems. But every night as he prayed, he would mention us each by name. And if we'd done something wrong, or if we had a special need, he mentioned that specifically. When he knew I had a test in school the next day, Daddy would ask the Lord to help me do well in that test. And I did — all of us did well — because it was expected of us and our Daddy was praying for us. And he'd always end his prayer by saying, ‘This is my prayer, in the name of Jesus, who, when we pray, has taught us to say, Our Father...'

"Friday evening worship was very special, and we all looked forward to it. By sundown we'd all been scrubbed and cleaned. Our clothes were pressed and our seven pairs of shoes were 'spit' shined, all standing in a row. We’d gather in a circle on the front lawn of our old farmhouse and start singing. We sang a lot. It was because of singing so well together that we eventually became known as the Wright Family Singers and were invited to sing in many different places.

"Sabbath was the best day of the week. We had special meals, and Daddy would spend time with us. He’d read to us or tell stories about faith and family. Sabbath was a high day.

"Daddy remembered all our birthdays. I still thrill thinking back to the morning he came to my room before he left at 5:00 am and woke me, saying, 'Son, it's your birthday today. God bless you.'

"We loved and revered our father. He taught us how to relate in a meaningful way to our heavenly Father. He taught us how to be productive and responsible."

In many of his prayers for his family, Nathan Wright would say, “Lord, save us into Your Kingdom without the loss of one.”3

Willie V. and Nathan Monroe Wright, parents of Harold Wright, taken in 1918. Photo from: “My Father Shared His Faith,” Record, February 1994, pp-3, 4.


Eleanor, or “Shellie” as she was called, enjoyed being a part of the Wright Family Ensemble/Singers and she performed for the first time publicly with them. Inside of this family group they formed a ladies trio consisting of Audrey Wright Dickerson, Jacqueline M. Wright, and Eleanor Wright. The ensemble traveled and performed all over the United States as well as Bermuda and Switzerland. Later, Eleanor formed the very popular and famous Blend-Wright Trio.

Perhaps to show that they were evolving away from slavery or because of the lingering influence of the Caucasian founders of the Adventist Church, most Black Adventist churches at that time sang anthems and classical hymns exclusively on Sabbaths. The Wright Family Ensemble and the Blend-Wrights reintroduced gospel music to Black Seventh-day Adventists. And they loved it! Harold's oldest brother and director of the Wright Family Singers, Dale, taught Eleanor to play guitar chords on the piano and she taught herself to go beyond his basic instruction.

The Wright Family Singers made appearances in 1947 on the Arthur Godfrey talent show and in the Golden gate ballroom in New York City. They made records under their own label, singing over television station WLW-D, until May 1953, when a car accident took the life of Dale, the arranger-director of the group. The Dale Wright Memorial Chapel in their hometown is named in honor of him.

The Blend-Wrights. (L-R): Eleanor, Ruby, Audrey Wright. Photo courtesy of the Wright family.


The ladies traveled to Bermuda in June 1974 to spread the gospel message in song. (L-R): Alice Thomas, Pianist; Jackie Wright, Eleanor Wright, Audrey Wright Dickerson. Photo courtesy of the Wright family.


The Blend-Wrights grace the front of Message Magazine. Photo courtesy of the Wright family.


Every Saturday morning thousands of television viewers in the vicinity of Dayton and Germantown, Ohio, tuned their sets to a favorite program, "At Home with Brother James," a Wright family religious telecast emanating from WHIO-TV, Channel 7, Dayton.

"At Home with Brother James" had the highest mail count of any program on the station. It had a relaxed, living room situation, and Harold Wright’s chats with viewers were interspersed with music by the Blend-Wrights. They also performed several hour-long presentations for Christmas, Easter, and other special occasions. Harold Wright started the radio program in 1948 on station WING, Dayton, and from 1951 to 1961 a program of religious recordings was aired by station WONE.

The Blend-Wrights were requested on several occasions to accept sizable commissions to appear in nightclubs across the country. They refused each time. They had determined that He who gave them talent should receive the glory. They consistently refused to sing in nightclubs. Harold, alias Brother James, said, "I am looking for something better, more satisfying, than this old world that is torn by race hatred, war, injustice, crime, sickness, and death can ever offer. We must be ready for the soon return of Jesus Christ in indescribable glory."

Through the years there developed between Miss Mahalia Jackson and the Wrights a friendship that was warm and sincere. Mahalia Jackson, at that time the Queen of gospel, came for the dedicatory service of the Dale Wright Memorial Chapel in Germantown.4

 Harold Wright at the mic. “Wright Family Active at Germantown (Ohio) Church,” Columbia Union Visitor, March 5, 1964, p.10.


”At Home With Brother James,” a popular TV program in the Dayton, OH, area. Front row: Larry Blackwell, Harold Wright, Leroy Logan; backrow, Alice Thomas, Audrey Dickerson, Jacqueline Wright, Eleanor Wright, Ron Thomas. Photo Credit: Morten Juberg, Columbia Union Visitor, August 10, 1967, p. 9. 


"Awards for Long Television Ministry Given to Wright Brothers at Germantown” Columbia Union Visitor/Adventist Review, March 8, 1979, page 1.


Eleanor did not escape the vicious attacks of Satan. But through her difficulties she turned to God. She was devastated when she lost her mentor and friend, Dale Wright, in the 1953 car accident and for a while she received no more songs in the night. Finally God gave her a new song. She was again devastated when she lost her sister-in-law and close friend, Audrey Wright Dickerson, in a five car accident, caused by icy conditions.5 Eleanor’s voice was silent for a while. It seemed like the devil had taken her song. But soon God gave her a new song of victory. Songs helped her come through the worst of trials victoriously and enabled her to praise God and give Him the glory.

“Some people may call my songs gospel, but I sing what I call message music — music that ministers to everyday needs with words such as: ‘I'm going to ride on a rainbow road, travel the Milky Way; I'm going to live in a home, where I have no more rent to pay. There's going to be a better day, a better day — afterwhile.’”

“My songs are songs of experience. I want to try to touch the soul,” she said. Many of her songs describe a struggle — the Christian struggle or the Black experience in the struggle for equality. But always there is a message of hope and deliverance through Christ.6

In addition to being an accomplished professional singer, composer, pianist and arranger in her own right, Eleanor was also a recording artist and publisher. Her songs of experience and encouragement were written in a variety of styles including anthems, children songs, gospels and wedding songs. Many have been recorded and published in sheet music form. She published three songbooks and recorded several albums. She taught piano to children and wrote and illustrated the Keyboard Cousins Method for teaching that age group. She recorded on Chapel Records, Savoy Recordings, and her own Eleanor Wright label. Del Delker, noted Voice of Prophecy singer, included one of her songs, “Hallelujah, Home at Last,” on a record of hers.

“Surely, Surely,” a meditative song, is number 688 in the Seventh-Day Adventist Hymnal. “Naaman, the Leper,” “Cover Me,” “A Long Way to Go,” “It's Raining Joy,” and “A Better Day Afterwhile” are still sung by 21st century performers. Manna Music, Screen Gems, and Ariosa Music published her music, although they are difficult to find today.

No. 688, Seventh-day Adventist Church Hymnal 


Eleanor Wright in performance. Photo courtesy of the Wright family.


Eleanor wrote three Youth Congress theme songs, was a member of the General Conference ad hoc committee for the study of music trends in Black churches, and a member of the advisory committee for the compilation of the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal. She also served with several evangelistic teams in the United States, Bermuda, and on the continent of Africa. She was active in the non-Adventist community and once directed a 100-voice, non-denominational choir.

Eleanor was creative also in her daily life. They had six children (Phillip, Mark, Jacquelyn, Carla, Marcena, and Andrea) and sometimes money was tight. When she needed a painting to hang over the fireplace in her home, she painted it herself. When it was time to have her couch reupholstered, she did it herself. When she needed an extra-long garment bag, she made it herself. Her practical skills included making wedding gowns and bedspreads, and building piano benches and music stands. Her interest and hobbies included gardening, word games, and baking. People traveled miles just for a slice of her banana cream pie, homemade pecan rolls, and strawberry shortcake.

A standing-room-only crowd of 3,500 people packed the Sligo church in Takoma Park, Maryland, Saturday evening, March 21, 1992. The benefit concert, "A Song for Eleanor" was sponsored by Allegheny East Conference churches. The gala event included choirs, soloists, musical groups, and testimonies designed to give Eleanor Wright her flowers while she could enjoy them. Eleanor could not attend because she had been diagnosed with cancer. Her heart would be buoyed when she saw a videotape of the concert at her home in Germantown, Ohio. The videotape and a financial purse collected that night put a new song in her heart.7 She would die shortly after on May 24, 1992 at age 65.8 Her husband, Harold, died 14 years later, on October 12, 2004. Together Eleanor and Harold had blessed the Church and the world with their music and their songs.9

For those interested in more fascinating stories, videos, and pictures about Eleanor Wright and her family, visit https://www.facebook.com/eleanorwrightmusic/ and http://eleanorwrightmusic.com/

Eleanor and Harold. Photo courtesy of the Wright family.


Notes & References:

1. “Eleanor Wright,” A Star Gives Light, p.305, 306.

2. Carla J. Wright (daughter’s webpage)

3. “My Father Shared His Faith”, Record, February 1994, pp-3, 4.

4. A. R. Simons, “The Musical World of the ‘Blend-Wrights,’“ Message Magazine, November-December, 1963, pp. 1,14.

5. Columbia Union Visitor/Adventist Review, March 8, 1979, page 1, bottom box.

6. Adventist Review February 2, 1989. Page 10.

7.  Reger Smith Jr. “Thousands Honor Composer Eleanor Wright” Visitor, May 1, 1992, p.8

8. “SDA Songwriter Dies From Cancer,” Adventist Review, June 18, 1992, p. 7

9. Dayton Daily News, October 14, 2004, obituaries.

 

DeWitt S. Williams, EdD, MPH, MA, CHES, gave 46 years of denominational service lastly serving as Director of Health Ministries, North American Division. He traveled to over 100 countries and all 50 states lecturing about the importance of good health. He has been a pastor and missionary, and has written or co-authored nine books, among them She Fulfilled the Impossible Dream, about the life of Eva B. Dykes.

Images compiled by the author, image credits as listed under each photo.

 

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