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An exceptional a cappella Easter hymn from Kings Return

"Old Rugged Cross" Kings Return

Kings Return | Fair Use via YouTube

J-P Mauro - published on 04/03/24

This outstanding a cappella choir routinely performs Christian hymns in imaginative and downright gorgeous tones of R&B, barbershop, jazz, and gospel.

Kings Return, a phenomenal 4-piece a cappella group known for outstanding arrangements of sacred music, is back with a fresh release for Easter 2024. The song, released on March 30, “Old Rugged Cross,” is a hymn penned by early 20th-century Methodist Reverend George Bennard. The tune has been around for over a century, but we’re pretty sure it’s never sounded like this before.

The group starts the tune with an imaginative “scat” section, with chords vividly sung on the syllable “do,” for a whimsical intro. This gives way to a somewhat subdued first verse that leans heavily on melismatic tones popularized by R&B, which pivots to a more barbershop-style chorus. Rotating through different styles gives the tune a unique soundscape, while the extremely tight harmonies they produce gives the impression of a larger choir. 

Each of the four singers is given his own solo section, too, which only adds to the musical texture, with the melody switching between octaves to hold fast the attention of listeners. In the last minute of the song, the singers really show off their flexibility, with long held chords that slide up and down to create beautiful suspension at the resolution. 

The hymn was written by Rev. George Bennard, a self-taught traveling worship leader who was converted by the Salvation Army. He would leave this group for the Methodist church, for which he became a preacher who traveled the American Midwest for speaking engagements on Christianity. 

At one such event in Michigan, he was thoroughly heckled by a youth group, which led him to contemplate ways to better engage with young people. One night soon after, the melody for “Old Rugged Cross” popped into his mind and he was able to write the first verse. The song would be completed at a Pokagon, Michigan, church, where he was leading a meeting. 

After the meeting, he rushed to finish the piece and played it for his sponsoring pastor and his wife, Rev. Leroy and Ruby Bostwick. The Bostwicks were touched by “Old Rugged Cross” and began incorporating it into the revival, where it took off in popularity. It was published around 1913, and has been a popular hymn for the season of Easter ever since. 

Click here to listen to more of Kings Return’s fine offerings of a cappella Christian hymns. 

Christian MusicEasterHymn
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