A few weeks ago in Dallas, a 91-year-old man slipped from the world.
The earth didn't shake.
In fact, almost no one noticed.
But the passing of Calvin Marsh merits more than that.
Marsh was a star with the Metropolitan Opera in the early 1950s. And he had the world by the tail. Critics coated him with praise. Fans adored him.
Then in 1957, Marsh heard Billy Graham preach in Madison Square Garden and all of his fame and fortune quickly turned to tinsel.
In the flash of a moment he saw worldly praise for what it was.
And he saw what he had to do.
For the next 54 years, Marsh would dedicate himself to religious music.
The late '50s and early '60s were the golden era of the "church solo" — it was an era of songs like "Bless This House," Malotte's "The Lord's Prayer" and "The Holy City." They were songs that could handle the power of an operatic baritone. And Marsh and his accompanist took them on the road. The pair called themselves the "Messiah Messengers" and along with popular church solos, they performed religious numbers written by Bach, Handel and other classical composers.
Marsh tried, where he could, to sing Christian songs to Jewish people, which seems quaint and uncomfortable today.
But wherever he sang, he sang from the soul.
I found a recording of him singing Malotte's "Twenty-Third Psalm" on the Internet the other day. His voice was as rich and resonate as any I've ever heard — churched or unchurched.
And as I listened to him sing about walking "through the valley of the shadow of death," I thought of how he stayed true to his chosen path to the last breath.
If I were a revered opera star who got asked to sing a dozen encores whenever I performed, would I have the where-with-all to dump everything and become a servant of the Creator of Songs?
I don't know.
But the fact Calvin Marsh chose to attend a Billy Graham crusade that night in 1957 seems to show he was already feeling the hollowness of celebrity and how praise and adulation can begin to sound like so much tinkling brass.
He had it all. He was king of the world.
But he didn't have enough.
Yet he found "enough" that night in 1957.
Like the Apostle Paul, he changed directions and never looked back.
And that fact, I think, merits a standing ovation just as much as the man's glorious voice.
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