Welcome to a two-for-one special today, as we focus on a couple of country musicians with possible connections to Churches of Christ who have not yet appeared on this blog. (There are still a few out there!) As noted in a recent Christian Chronicle article, there are a large number of country musicians with ties to the Churches of Christ, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that already a half-dozen or so previous posts here at the blog have focused on country music, to say nothing of the numerous entries on stars from other musical genres.
Today, we’ll be investigating the religious upbringings of Waylon Jennings (1937-2002) and Holly Dunn (1957-2016), both of whom were suggested as topics by readers of the blog. Jennings is best known for his association with the “Outlaw Country” movement, which also included figures like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, with whom he would record as The Highwaymen. Despite numerous health issues and struggles with addiction, Jennings had sixteen number one hits and eleven number one albums, and he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October 2001, a few months before his death in early 2002.
Again, Jennings was suggested to me as a topic by a reader of the blog, and it did not take much work to figure out the link between the musician and the Churches of Christ. An excerpt from Jennings’s autobiography offers the following amusing anecdote about the family’s religious beliefs and their impact on the spelling of Jennings’s first name.
So it came down to Wayland Arnold. But when a Baptist preacher stopped by to visit Momma, he said, “Oh, I see you’ve named your son after our wonderful Wayland College in Plain-view,” so she immediately changed the spelling to Waylon. We were solidly Church of Christ, saved by baptism instead of faith. She never got around to switching it on the birth certificate. I still hate my middle name, and for a while I didn’t like Waylon. It sounded so corny and hillbilly, but it’s been good to me, and I’m pretty well at peace with it now.” (1)
However, despite this background, Jennings soured quite a bit on the family faith over the years, writing elsewhere in the same book that “Of all the religions I’ve run into, the Church of Christ has probably got it wronger than anybody.” (2) An article from Truth Magazine, associated with the non-institutional Churches of Christ, later cited this quotation in a critique of Jennings and of prominent minister Rubel Shelly, who had defended some of Jennings’s criticisms of Churches of Christ. (3) The Wikipedia entry for Jennings’s album Are You Ready for the Country likewise cites the liner notes, written by Rich Kienzel, who wrote that Jennings typically avoided gospel music because of “a longstanding ambivalence about organized religion. As a kid in Texas, he briefly aspired to preach, only to conclude the rigid teachings of his family’s church, the Church of Christ,” didn’t square with his own beliefs. (4)
Of course, Jennings was only one of our two reader-suggested subjects for today, so we’ll now turn to Holly Dunn (1957-2016), best known for a series of successful albums and singles ranging from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s. “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” and “You Really Had Me Going” were among her highest charting singles, though she also had success as a songwriter, with Louise Mandrell’s version of “I’m Not Through Loving You Yet” cracking the top ten. Dunn was also an avid artist, and in fact, she retired from music in 2003 to pursue a second career as a painter. Dunn was part of a quite creative family, with one of her parents being a landscape painter and her brother, Chris Waters, working as a songwriter, producer, culinary writer, and teacher at the Culinary Institute of America.
Dunn’s biography on AllMusic mentions that “While attending Abilene Christian University, she sang with the school’s Hilltop Singers touring choir,” linking Dunn with the Churches of Christ through that institution. (5) More directly, her obituary in the New York Times notes that she “was born on Aug. 22, 1957, in San Antonio, the daughter of Frank Dunn, a Church of Christ minister, and the former Yvonne Campbell, a Texas Hill Country landscape artist.” (6) The obituary from the Abilene Reporter News adds that like Dunn, “Her two brothers, Rodney and Chris, also are ACU grads” and that her famous song “Daddy’s Hands” was written “for her father, a Church of Christ pulpit minister, as a Father’s Day present.” (7)
Whatever the connections may have been later in life, it is clear that both Jennings and Dunn had close personal and family ties to Churches of Christ early on, making this twofer special “CONFIRMED” on both counts. Be sure to click back over in a month’s time for another double entry from elsewhere in the music world!
(1) Waylon Jennings with Lenny Kaye, Waylon: An Autobiography (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1996). I consulted an eBook edition which, unfortunately, lacks page numbers.
(2) Jennings, Waylon, no page number.
(3) Aude McKee, “Which One Will Fall Out First?” Truth Magazine, September 19, 1996, http://www.truthmagazine.com/archives/volume40/GOT040263.html.
(4) “Are You Ready for the Country,” Wikipedia, accessed March 16, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Are_You_Ready_for_the_Country.
(5) “Holly Dunn,” AllMusic, accessed March 16, 2021, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/holly-dunn-mn0000579823/biography.
(6) Sam Roberts, “Holly Dunn, 59, Country Singer-Songwriter, Dies; ‘Daddy’s Hands’ Was a Hit,” New York Times, November 16, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/17/arts/music/holly-dunn-dies.html.
(7) “ACU grad Holly Dunn remembered as sweet, talented,” November 17, 2016, https://www.reporternews.com/story/news/local/2016/11/17/acu-grad-holly-dunn-remembered-sweet-talented/93993082/.