The Great Speckled Bird / Guy Smith

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I recently acquired the 1977 Brentwood-Benson hymnal New Songs of Inspiration, Volume Ten, a seven-shape shaped-note edition containing 280 songs, 18 responsive readings, and five benedictions. Among the items in this book that I had not previously encountered was one that by its odd imagery caught my attention and interest. "The Great Speckled Bird." So far I have located two possibly reliable sources on this, namely the Wikipedia page The Great Speckled Bird (song) and this thread at the Mudcat Café. On first looking at it I thought, "I know this tune from somewhere" but couldn't think where; was it an adaptation, sans refrain, of Red River Valley? But the above sources make It clear that the tune has received much more play with other lyrics (Country & Western is not my forte among the genres) and that my familiarity with the tune must stem from having heard but not particularly listened to one or both of those hit songs. New Songs of Inspiration Volume X (the spine has "X", the front cover and title page have "TEN") simply calls the text "Traditional", and for the tune simply says "Arr. by W. Elmo Mercer", but carries a page copyright notice reading "© Copyright 1965 by Singspiration, Division of the Zondervan Corporation. All rights reserved. Used by permission." But the tune appears to be attested from the 1920s (and appears already then to be unattributed and traditional), and the text must be from 1936 or earlier since that was the year Roy Acuff made a hit recording of it, so I'm not sure on what grounds Zondervan claimed that copyright, unless it only has to do with W. Elmo's arrangement. And perhaps the "every color and race" segment? I have not been able to determine exactly what text Rev. Guy Smith actually wrote; the Mudcat post details some differences between the text given there and the Acuff recording, and there is no mention of the "every color and race" part. Any information about the questions implicit in the foregoing, whether concerning the text, the tune, or the copyright, is eagerly solicited. Leland aka Haruo *i.e., the three verses from the hymnal, and the eight verses from the Mudcat, construed as four "doubled" stanzas. I have not actually listened (knowingly, anyhow) to the Acuff recording, which apparently (according to the Mudcat text notes) is of a different selection of verses. The metre is irregular, but basically just variants on it looks like to me. The texts on the PDF are not perfect copies of their sources; when I add the song to the Hymnary (which I shall do eventually if you don't beat me to it) I shall pay more attention to the precise wordings and accidentals of the instances.


There is a fair amount of evidence online about volumes 10, 11, 12 of this series, but none that I can see concerning the presumably nine preceding volumes. From the songlists on the Brentwood-Benson website it appears likely that volumes 11 and 12 are in large part simply recapitulations of volume 10, but it's impossible really to tell how much different material they contain. If any readers of this post are in possession of earlier volumes of the series, I'd much appreciate your posting lists of the contents.


See a Wikipedia entry at: which indicates the traditional tune was used in 1925 on a song titled: "Thrills I can't forget". Then again in 1929 by the Carters on the song: "I'm Thinking Tonight of my Blue Eyes".
I learned the song about 1960 from a traveling Evangelist.

Email from gospelsinger:

I have a copy of "New Stongs of Inspiration Number 7", (c) 1967 by John T Benson, Jr. Page 80 lists this song, (c)1965, crediting the arrangement to Elmo Mercer. It lists the words as "Traditional", but only printed 3 verses. If this were a renewal, the original (c) date would be 1938 or 1939, which is close to the info of it being recorded by Roy Acuff in 1936.

Guy Smith is my Great-Great Grandfather. I checked with a source (my grandfather/ his grandson) who said the words were put to music from another country song during that time.

Hi Leland, I'm doing a bit of research on this tune and would love to see the PDF, but it appears to no longer be available from the posted link. Would it be possible to repost the text?

Been searching for more information on the Great Speckled Bird song. 
My father wanted me to research Mosco Reed who was a singer (along with his very talented family) and a taxi driver- who accidentally ran my father over when he was 5!!

I purchased a very large old book of the history of Wise County Virginia for my father, that being his birthplace and old stomping grounds.  

In it, he found out that the fella that ran him over was the original writer of the piece and along with his family the original singers of it. 
Would love to have any info on the hymn additionally. 
Please send to

( not sure if I'll be alerted in the thread.)

My father is experiencing the beginning stages of Alzheimer's and talking about his past really helps him.

Thank you!

Thanks for your comment and request, Christian Adams! I'll certainly try to remember to pass along any further info I run into. Do you happen to have the title and publishing info on the West Virginia history book you found the stuff in?

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