Hello and welcome back to the “Church of Christ Celebrities” blog for our second consecutive two-parter! Last time out, we focused primarily on the world of country music, exploring the religious affiliations of country singers Waylon Jennings and Holly Dunn. Today, we’ll stay within the music world but move to the genre of rock, investigating possible connections between Churches of Christ and 1) singer/songwriter Roy Orbison (1936-1988) and 2) Sister Hazel founding member Drew Copeland (1968-). As with last month’s double post, both of today’s subjects were suggested by readers of the blog, and I always welcome those topic suggestions, even if it takes me a while to get to them in the post queue.
First up, Roy Orbison was the writer and performer of a number of classic hits, including songs like “Only the Lonely” and “Oh, Pretty Woman.” Orbison also played in the Traveling Wilburys alongside other major stars like Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, the year before his death from heart attack.
A retrospective in the Chicago Tribune published not long after Orbison’s death in December 1988 mentioned that Orbison had experienced a major turning point “about three years ago… a born-again Christian experience, though Orbison disliked the born-again term because he said it was misused and overused.” (1) An article from the Christian History Institute lists the singer, alongside “Pat Boone, Glen Campbell,… and Loretta Lynn,” as being “raised in or converted to Churches of Christ.” (2)
Two sections in Orbison’s authorized biography gives us more insight into the nature of the connection. According to the book, both of Orbison’s wedding ceremonies took place in Churches of Christ: first, “Roy and Claudette… finally got married on June 21, 1957, at a ceremony at the Church of Christ in Kermit.” A later passage similarly tells readers that “Roy married Barbara on Tuesday, March 25, 1969, in Madison, Tennessee. Bill Dees was his best man, and Ira North, the minister of the Madison Church of Christ, who had officiated at the burial of Roy’s children, solemnized the ceremony.” (3)
Our other subject for today is Drew Copeland, a singer, guitarist, and founding member of the rock group Sister Hazel. The band, which hails from Gainesville, Florida, experienced its greatest success with the singles “All for You” (from their debut album) and “Change Your Mind” (from their second), and remains a mainstay on the radio today through those and other songs. The band took its name from the founder of Angel of Mercy in Gainesville Ministries, one Dr. Hazel K. Williams, who band member Ken Block described as “very cool… in that spirit of unconditional regard for people.” (4)
I was not able to find much on Copeland specifically, aside from a Gainesville Sun profile from 2007 which described him as maybe “the most un-rock-starlike rock star in the world [with] a hearty laugh, a down-to-earth nature, [and] a sincere appreciation for success”–all great qualities, but nothing that speaks definitively about one’s religious affiliation. (5) An interview posted on Guitar Site did note that when asked “If I could meet any ONE person living or dead, he/she would be…?” Copeland responded with “Jesus Christ. I know that’s heavy but we’re talking anyone, right? Well, that’s who that would be.” (6)
I am technically cheating a bit in including Copeland in this entry, as it was not my research which turned up a link. Rather, a family member of Copeland’s posted in a Restoration Movement history Facebook group a few weeks ago to let group members know about the connection, and a reader of the blog pointed me in the direction of that post. Even though I didn’t find much to add in my research, I enjoy the band’s music, and so I hated to not mention the link here.
That’s all for today, which brings our second consecutive musical two-parter to a close. Next month’s post will be another multi-parter, though, as we highlight a trio of athletes (two who were/are runners, two who were/are named Jim) with possible connections to Churches of Christ. See you then!
(1) Jim Sullivan, “My Voice is a Gift,” Chicago Tribune, December 11, 1988, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1988-12-11-8802240182-story.html.
(2) McGarvey Ice, “Stone-Campbell, Did you know?” Christian History Magazine, accessed March 16, 2021, https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/did-you-know-stone-campbell.
(3) Roy Orbison Jr., Wesley Orbison, and Alex Orbison, with Jeff Slate, The Authorized Roy Orbison (Center Street, 2017); unfortunately, the eBook edition I am relying on lacks page numbers.
(4) Nestor Montoya and Ethan Magoc, “‘Sister Hazel’ Williams, Gainesville Band’s Namesake, Dies at 91,” WUFT, July 17, 2016, https://www.wuft.org/news/2016/07/17/sister-hazel-williams-gainesville-bands-namesake-dies-at-91/.
(5) Jamison Webb, “The Hometown Boy: Drew Copeland,” Gainesville Sun, October 5, 2006, https://www.gainesville.com/article/LK/20061005/News/604173294/GS.
(6) “Ax Facts and Stats: Drew Copeland of Sister Hazel,” October 4, 2004, http://www.guitarsite.com/newsletters/041004/5.shtml.