THE STORY BEHIND THE SONG
Honored by the Smithsonian:
"Sweet, Sweet Spirit"
By Lindsay Terry
The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Doris Akers, born in Brookfield, Missouri, on May 21, 1923, was one of ten children. She learned to play the piano by ear at age six and by age ten had composed her first song. By the time she was twelve, she had organized a five-piece band that played music of the 1930s. When she was only 22 years of age, she moved to Los Angeles, where she encountered a thriving gospel music community. She met several outstanding musicians, such as Eugene Douglas Smallwood, who greatly influenced the gospel music career of this young African-American lady. A year later, Doris joined the Sallie Martin Singers as pianist and singer. Two years later, with Dorothy Vemell Simmons, she formed the Simmons–Akers Singers and also launched a publishing firm called Akers Music House.
In 1958, in a Los Angeles church, she started a racially mixed gospel group, the Sky Pilot Choir, which featured African-American gospel music. People would drive for miles just to hear their song arrangements. Many artists, including the Stamps–Baxter Quartet, Bill Gaither, George Beverly Shea, and Mahalia Jackson, have recorded Akers’s songs. Countless other Southern Gospel Music groups still record and sing her music. Millions of church members have sung her songs, which have long been published in many hymnals. She was a recording artist, music arranger, choir director, and songwriter and was awarded Gospel Music Composer of the Year for both 1960 and 1961.
In 1958, she and Mahalia Jackson cowrote “Lord, Don’t Move the Mountain,” which won a Manna Music Gold West Plaque in recognition of one million records sold. She was honored by the Smithsonian Institution, which labeled her songs and records “National Treasures.” She was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2001, along with such notables as the Rambos and Kurt Kaiser.
When I interviewed her in the late 1980s, she related to me that one Sunday morning in 1962, while directing the Sky Pilot Choir, she said to her singers, “You are not ready to go in.” She didn’t believe they had prayed enough! They were accustomed to spending time with her in prayer before the service, asking God to bless their songs. She said, “I feel that prayer is more important than great voices.” They had already prayed, but this particular morning she asked them to pray again, and they did so with renewed fervor.
As they prayed, Doris began to wonder how she could stop this wonderful prayer meeting. She said, “I sent word to the pastor letting him know what was happening. He was waiting in the auditorium, wanting to start the service. Finally, I was compelled to say to the choir, ‘We have to go. I hate to leave this room and I know you hate to leave, but you know we do have to go to the service. But there is such a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place.’”
Doris explained to me, “Songwriters always have their ears open to a song. The song started ‘singing’ to me. I wanted to write it down but couldn’t. I thought the song would be gone after the service. Following the dismissal, I went home. The next morning, to my surprise, I heard the song again, so I went to the piano and began to put it all down.” She had been given the now-famous “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.”
In her song she recognized the “Spirit in this place,” as the “Spirit of the Lord.” She could see in the “sweet expressions” of the choir members that they also recognized the “presence of the Lord.” In the chorus of the song, she calls us to the New Testament where the Spirit of God descended like a dove, lighting upon Jesus at His baptism (Matthew 3:16). She calls Him “sweet heavenly Dove,” asking Him to stay right there with them, filling them with His love.
To the end of her earthly life, Doris Akers believed that God wants His children to pray. Her songs have circled the globe, aiding Christians of all nationalities in their worship of the heavenly Father. She passed away on July 26, 1995, in Minneapolis.
Not very much worthwhile was ever accomplished apart from prayer. The greatest example for our prayer lives was Christ our Lord, who felt the need of fellowship with the heavenly Father and took advantage of the opportunity on many occasions that are recorded in Scripture.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Taken from Stories Behind 50 Southern Gospel Favorites © 2005 by Lindsay Terry.
Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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