Who was A. B. Windom?

NOTE: See the update below for a brief biography of Windom.

I’m trying to track down Aaron Bash Windom, a mid-twentieth century composer of gospel music from St. Louis. One of his better-known songs was “Let Us Sing Till the Pow’r of the Lord Come Down,” often known as “Now Let Us Sing.”

My best guess is that Windom was born in 1910, and died in 1981. The Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series, vol. 2, part 5A, number 1, Published Music, January-June 1948 (Washington, D.C.: Copyright Office, Library of Congress, 1948) reveals that his name is Aaron Bash Windom, that he was born in 1910, and that he was the sole owner of A. B. Windom Studio, St. Louis, Mo. The Find-a-Grave Web site has a photo of a grave stone of Aaron Bash Windom who died in March, 1981, at age 70; the grave stone is in Saint Peter’s Cemetery, Normandy, St. Louis County, Missouri.

Windom is mentioned in passing in Horace Clarence Boyer’s The Golden Age of Gospel ([University of Illinois Press, 1995], p. 138): “Two other S. Louis natives who were important figures in gospel between 1945 and 1955 were Martha Bass and A. B. Windom. … Windom, a one-time accompanist for Mother Smith, composed several gospel songs: her ‘I’m Bound for Canaan Land’ and ‘I’ve Got the River of Jordan To Cross” became gospel standards.'” Several other sources indicate that he taught piano; in a couple of places he is referred to as “Professor A. B. Windom,” though I don’t know if he was affiliated with a school or college, or if he, like many other music teachers, was accorded the honorary title lf “Professor” by his students and local community.

The gospel song “Let us sing till the pow’r of the Lord come down” was published in St. Louis, Mo., and is copyright 1948 by A. B. Windom Studio. If you look around online, you can find recordings of it by various musicians. Some online discographies seem to indicate that he made some recordings of his own music, but I can’t confirm that.

But I have no idea if he was white or black; if he played anything besides gospel music; to what extent he made his living as a performer, a teacher, and/or a composer. I cannot find him in the 1930 or the 1940 U.S. Census. Was he married? Did he have children?

If anyone out there knows anything about him, I’d love to hear.

Update, Feb., 2023

Here’s my best effort at a brief biography for Aaron Bash Windom, based on the information listed below, plus information from the comments. Some of this is a little bit speculative, but given how little information we have, this will have to do.

Aaron Bash Windom, known as A. B. Windom, was born on September 11, 1910, in Missouri. Nothing is known about his early years. By 1941, he was publishing his own compositions in St. Louis, often under the imprint “Studio of A. B. Windom.” In addition to being a gospel composer, he also taught music, and his students called him Professor A. B. Windom. He was also a performer, and both sang and played piano.

On February 17, 1949, he married Selma B. Hurd. Born c. 1903, Selma was from East St. Louis, Ill., across the river from St. Louis, and was the daughter of Baptist minister Rev. B. M. Hurd.

Although all his published compositions were gospel music, Windom taught classical piano. As one of his students remembers, “He was very well versed in music theory as well. Gospel music is not all he knew. He was a light-skinned Black man, [and] eccentric. I still miss him.” At least one of his students went on to become a professional musician, the gospel composer Rev. Robert Mayes (1942-1992).

Windom served for forty years as the minister of music at Christ Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in St. Louis, circa 1940 until his death. In 1966, he served on the Devotional Literature Commission of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

His gospel compositions were recorded most notably by Mahalia Jackson, and also by less well-known performers such as Martha Bass, the Golden Harmoneers, the Clara Ward Singers, etc. His 1948 composition “Let Us Sing Till the Power of the Lord Come Down” (a.k.a. “Now Let Us Sing”) has been recorded a number of times and is widely sung by church choirs. “This song has even entered the folk tradition to the point where”Now Let Us Sing” has entered the oral tradition, passed from singer to singer; unfortunately in the process Windom’s authorship has sometimes been forgotten.

Windom died on February 28, 1981. He had turned over his school at 3905 Evans Street, St. Louis, to Professor Lee Cochran, Jr., who continued to teach music there. Selma, A. B.’s wife, died on February 26, 1994. They are buried together in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Normandy, St. Louis County, Missouri.

Research notes:

(1) Be sure to read the comments. There is some material there from people who knew him.

(2) I’ve found some genealogical information about Aaron Bash Windom. I assumed that the birth year listed in his copyright entries (1910) was correct. Beyond that, “Windom” is an unusual spelling.

(a) I was not able to find him in the 1920, 1920, 1940, or 1950 U.S. Census. That doesn’t mean he’s not there; sometimes names get horribly mangled by the census takers. But I was unable to track him down.

(b) Aaron Bash Windom and Selma B. Hurd were married on February 17, 1949, in St. Louis, by Rev. E. R. Williams. See attached photostat of the marriage record (from Familysearch.org). With such an unusual name, spelled exactly as it appears on his copyright records, this is pretty definitely our A. B. Windom.

Photostat of marriage record

(c) Aaron Bash Windom is in the Social Security Death Index, found via Familysearch.org. Date of birth, September 11, 1910; date of death, February, 1981 (no day given). Since he was buried in early March (see below), I’d assume he died in late February.

(d) According to Find-a-Grave, Aaron Bash Windom died in March, 1981 (though actually, this was probably the burial date; see above for a Feb. date), and he was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Normandy, St. Louis County, Missouri. Interment.net summarizes the interment record as follows: “WINDOM, Aaron Bash, age: 70, burial: 03/07/1981, Section: 28, Block: O, Lot: 28.00, Grave: 1.”

This source (which collates public records) has the following information: “WINDOM, AARON was born 11 September 1910, received Social Security number 498-14-7067 (indicating Missouri) and, Death Master File says, died February 1981 [Source: Death Master File (public domain)….] WINDOM, AARON B. died 28 February 1981 in Missouri, U.S.A. Special thanks to Reclaim the Records.” Given the dates of death, I feel pretty confident that both these entries are for our A. B. Windom.

(e) Selma died in 1994, according to Find-a-Grave (this corresponds to the information in the comments below) and she is also buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery. Interment.net lists her as “WINDOM, Selma B., age: 91, burial: 2/26/1994, Section: 28, Block: O, Lot: 28.00, Grave: 2”; in other words, she’s buried next to A.B. (but darn it, I wish they’d given her full middle name). This also gives Selma’s approximate birth year as 1903. That means she was about 46 years old when she married A.B. Windom; thus it’s no surprise that they didn’t have children together. Another source gives her date of death as February 19, 1994 (using information found on reclaimtherecords.org).

Once I knew Selma’s approximate birth year, I could do more research on her life. Our Selma is probably (but not definitely) the Selma B. Hurd born in 1903, and found in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 U.S Census, living with her parents in East St. Louis, Illinois, right across the river from St. Louis, Mo. Her parents were B. M. Hurd (born in Georgia; first name also given as Morgan) and Lusette Hurd (born in Alabama; first name may be Lucetta, Luretta, or Susetta). B. M. was minister of a Baptist church, and is listed in the American Baptist Yearbook for 1910 (p. 151); he is probably the B. M. Hurd who died in 1937. Lusette doesn’t appear in the 1930 Census; she is probably the Lucetta Hurd who died in 1922 and is buried in the same cemetery, in the exact same section, as B. M. Hurd. Note that Selma was Lusette’s second child, for the 1910 census shows she has two living children, though only Selma is living with Lusette in that year (Lusette was about 40 when she had Selma); also note that Lusette married B. M. circa 1901, and this was her second marriage. Also, the 1920 Census lists Selma, Lusette, and B.M. as black.

Given this information on Selma, we might be able to go a little further. A woman named Selma Hurd of East St. Louis, Ill., married Carl L. Jamerson, also of East St. Louis, on September 22, 1930 — there may have been two women named Selma Hurd in East St. Louis in 1930, but I’m betting that it’s the same woman; and if this is the same Selma who married A. B. Windom, then it was her second marriage. However, note that A. B. Windom did not marry Selma Jamerson; which could mean that these are not the same woman, or it could mean that Selma took back her maiden name after her marriage with Jamerson ended.

Be cautious with any of this information about Selma. I found no definite connection between the Selma Hurd of East St. Louis, Ill., and the Selma Hurd of St. Louis, Mo., who married A. B. Windom. They’re probably the same woman (it’s a somewhat unusual name), but they’re not definitely the same woman.

(3) A. B. Windom is mentioned in the minutes of the “First Annual Midwinter Planning Session” of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., January 19-20, 1966, held at Christ Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, St. Louis, Missouri: “Professor A. B. Windom of the host church sang a solo, ‘Come unto Jesus'” [for the Thurs. morning, Jan. 20, session]; he was also listed as a member of the “Devotional Literature Commission.” These minutes are bound with the Minutes of the Fourth Annual Session of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Sept. 7-12, 1965 (p. 165).

(4) I found a number of copyright listings and publication listings for A. B. Windom, but did not have the patience to go through all those listings looking for bits good information (e.g., where the copyright holder resides, etc.). Below is what my quick search turned up for sheet music publications. These are of interest because they place Windom in St. Louis in the 1940s, and show that he published his own music. It also shows that he had connections to Chicago.

1941: “The First Started Burning in My Soul” (27458 Cass, St. Louis: A. B. Windom)
1942: “You’ve Got the River of Jordan To Cross,” with P.D. Johnson and Theodore Frye (Chicago: Theodore Frye)
1945: “There’s Rest for the Weary” (St. Louis: A. B. Windom Studio)
1947: “I Got To Run to the City Four Square (St. Louis: A. B. Windom Studio)
1948: “Let Us Sing Till the Power of the Lord Come Down” (St. Louis: A. B. Windom Studio)
1949:”Oh Lord Remember Me” (St. Louis: A. B. Windom Studio)
1949:”You Got To Stand Your Trial in Judgment” (St. Louis: A. B. Windom Studio)
1954: “Peace, Peace in Jesus” (St. Louis: A. B. Windom Studio)
(Sources: Emory Univ.; eBay listings; U.S. Copyright listings)

(5) A. B. Windom is mentioned in a few published reminiscences about the mid-twentieth century gospel music scene — search Google Books — but most of this material either is not available on Google Books, or says little more than “I remember A. B. Windom.”

(6) Archive.org has a nice recording of “Let Us Sing Till the Power of the Lord Comes Down from 1949 — well worth listening to, so you can hear the whole song with the original lyrics.