Last year, I published several articles in a series titled “The Originals.” This series offers your eyes a history lesson and provides your ears an opportunity to hear the very first recording of a classic song.
Today, our spotlight shines on the hit “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” I say “hit,” because this song was perched at the very top of the first airplay chart published by the Singing News in January 1970. The Oak Ridge Boys, Inspirations, Florida Boys, and Downings shared in the honor. Initially, the chart focused on the song more than one particular artist, so if more than one artist was receiving significant airplay for the same song, several artists might be listed. “Jesus Is Coming Soon” would remain on top in February and March, then return for another three month reign at the top in June, July, and August.
“Jesus Is Coming Soon” carries a copyright date of 1942. It was written by R E Winsett when the entire world was at war. “Troublesome times” were here, indeed.
The song was published, and a few groups here and there may have sung it, but it mostly went unnoticed. Winsett never knew his song was destined to be an all-time hit. He passed away in 1952 at the age of 76. The song initially found life through a group called the Shelton Family of Pickens, South Carolina.
In a Facebook post in October 2013, Sandra Shelton wrote:
In the late 1960s, my sister’s piano teacher picked out a song for her to learn the chords. My dad, with his keen ear for music, loved the song and knew it was special. We were in Mark V studio recording “Jesus Is Coming Soon,” and the Inspirations were there and heard it. They liked the song too. I wrote down the words myself and gave it to them.
The Inspirations recorded “Jesus Is Coming Soon” at Mark V (of course it had to be later), and somehow, guess this one for yourself, our record was held back and the Inspirations’ record came back first. The Oak Ridge Boys recorded it and on it went. The song went to number one.
If you’ve read the book What A Wonderful Time: The Story Of The Inspirations, there’s a different account claiming they were the first to record the song after George Shelton said they probably wouldn’t record it (pp. 65-66). Several historians I’ve questioned have confirmed that Sandra Shelton’s account is accurate, however.
Sandra’s brother, George Shelton, Jr., also spoke with me at length about the recording. It is his opinion that the record label wanted to push the Inspirations’ version, so they delayed the release of the Sheltons’ recording. This not only gave the Inspirations a head-start, it also meant the Mark V Records product code would imply that the Inspirations’ version was recorded first.
Many other groups recorded “Jesus Is Coming Soon” over the next two years. This was not uncommon in the 1960s. If a group heard a great song and saw it getting a great response, they’d put out their own version.
The original version by the Sheltons was released on an LP titled Heart Felt Gospel.
If you’d like to hear another version, there are plenty. Check out this list of more than 50 artists who have recorded “Jesus Is Coming Soon” over the years, courtesy of sghistory.com, MusicScribe’s sister site!
- Anchormen (???? Old Time Singing)
- Apostles (1999 Vintage Gospel)
- Beene Family (2009 Hope Of Home)
- Blackwood Brothers (1970 Oh Happy Day; 1978 His Amazing Love; 1979 Live! At The National Quartet Convention; 2007 Live In Cape Coral; 2011 Live From Florida)
- Blackwood Singers (1973 The Exciting; ???? Oh Happy Day)
- Blue Ridge Quartet (1969 And That’s Enough; 1975 Reflections)
- Booth Brothers, Greater Vision, Legacy Five (2010 Jubilee Two)
- Calvarymen Quartet (???? Gospel Singing Calvarymen Style)
- Cathedral Quartet (1969 Jesus is Coming Soon; 1976 The Best Of The Cathedral Quartet)
- Chosen Few (1993 The Classics)
- Chuck Wagon Gang (1971 Down the Sawdust Trail; 1995 Leave The Light On)
- Couriers (1972 Sing Gospel Favorites)
- Cumberland Quartet (1981 Sing The Glory Down; 1981 Live! In Concert)
- Dennis Gwizdala (2004 Saved)
- Dixie Echoes (1969 In Times Like These; 1976 Sing Back the Memories; 1996 Rock Solid)
- Dixie Melody Boys (1972 Just For You; 2004 Historic Journey Volume 1; 2006 Traditions)
- Doug Oldham (1970 Have You Heard…The King Is Coming!)
- Downings (1969 Take One; 1972 Great Gospel Songs; 1996 The Downings Vol 2)
- Easter Brothers (1967 Country Hymn Time)
- Florida Boys (1969 Your Kind Of Singing)
- Gaither Homecoming Series (1993 Old Friends)
- Galileans (1971 Colorful)
- Gold City (1981 First Day In Heaven; 1991 Super 70’s Gospel Hits Volume 1)
- Gold City & Kingsmen Quartet (1996 King’s Gold 4)
- Gospel Brass (1976 In Session)
- Gospel Harmony Boys (1970 Movin Up)
- Gospel Lads (???? Jesus Is Alive)
- Happy Goodmans (2000 Set Your Sails)
- Harvesters (1968 Presenting The Harvesters)
- Hemphills (1970 Old Brush Arbor Days)
- Hoppers (1974 Sing Gospel Classics; 1997 40 Years Forever to be Remembered)
- Inspirations (1968 Jesus is Coming Soon; 1981 Singing In The Smokies Second Helping; 2005 SGMA Hall Of Fame Legends Volume One; 2010 Live 45 Years Of Favorites; 2013 No Two Ways About It)
- Ivan Parker (1998 A Collection Of 20 Favorites)
- J D Sumner And The Stamps (1969 Songs To Remember; 1971 Top Of The Stamps; 1979 For God So Loved The World)
- Journeymen Quartet (1998 Timeless)
- Keystone Quartet (1968 Movin!)
- Kingdom Heirs (1988 Classics; 1993 Timeless)
- Kingsmen Quartet (1968 Crown Him King)
- LeFevres (1970 LeFevres Present Pierce And Mylon)
- Lesters (1991 In Your Honor)
- Lewis Family (1972 Gospel Banjo Little Roy And The Lewis Family)
- Mercy’s Mark (2004 Southern Selections Vol. 1)
- Messengers (1972 Country Boys Bound For That City)
- Music City Singers (196? Jake Hess Presents The Music City Singers)
- Oak Ridge Boys (1969 It’s Happening; 1969 Thanks; 1971 Jesus Is Coming Soon; 1971 Performance; 1974 Gospel Gold Alive In Concert; 1985Everyday Gospel; 2005 Common Thread; 2005 From The Heart; 2008 The Gospel Collection; 2009 A Gospel Journey) Watch Video
- Old Paths (2007 Journey Down The Old Path Volume 1, 2008 Live In Pigeon Forge)
- Orrells (1969 Sings It Like This)
- Palmetto State Quartet (1995 Classic Touch; ???? The New Sounds Of The Palmetto State Quartet)
- Pine Ridge Boys (???? Jesus Is Coming Soon)
- Plainsmen (1969 Plainsmen Sing Inspirational Songs)
- Premiers Quartet (1970 How Sweet It Is)
- Prophets (1969 Why Should I Worry?)
- Rebels (1969 A Hill Called Mt Calvary)
- Rhythm Masters (196? Rhythm Masters)
- Roger McDuff (1968 Sincerely Yours)
- Rosie Rozell And The Searchers (1967 Sing For You; 1970 Sweet Sweet Spirit)
- Singing Americans (197? 12 Gospel Favorites; 197? Amazing Grace)
- Smitty Gatlin Trio (1969 Peace In The Valley)
- Soul’d Out Quartet (2010 Simply Put)
- Telestials (1971 Praise The Lord Anyhow)
- Thrasher Brothers (1970 At Fantastic Caverns)
- Various Artists (1992 All Night Singing Vol. 1)
- Vicksburg Quartet (1969 Feelin’ Fine)
- Victors (1971 Put Your Hand In The Hand)
- Weatherfords (1969 The Cross Made The Difference)
- Won By One (1995 Another Hallelujah)