Budding songwriter’s ‘Memorial Day’ widening its national reach

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Friday, May 26, 2006 (14 years ago)

SAREPTA, La. (BP)-—Although America abounds with patriotic songs, the nation does not have a nationally recognized ballad for Memorial Day.

But there’s momentum toward one, since Tony Mullins, a high school history teacher, coach and alderman in Sarepta, La., wrote “Memorial Day” at the offhand request of the music minister at his church, New Sarepta Baptist.

“It’s not like I’m trying to make the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ or something,” Mullins said. “But people keep calling about it.”

“Memorial Day” was featured last year at weeklong festivities in Waterloo, N.Y., a patriotic village in upstate New York known as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Ever since, the song has been spreading across the nation via the Internet.

“I don’t want to charge anything for the use of the sheet music this year,” Mullins said. “It’s something given to me and I want to share it with others.”

Mullins says he can’t sing a lick, doesn’t read music and doesn’t much care for poetry. But a couple of years ago, a song popped into his head, and since then he’s become a songwriter with more than 20 numbers to his credit.

Mullins was sitting at a gazebo at the pond that spans five of his 38 acres, and there one night a song came full-blown into his mind.

“I took the lyrics to school to show a friend,” Mullins recounted. “I could hear the parts and see each one [in the men’s quartet at church] singing it.”

Mullins gave the song, which he named “Christ Is the King,” to praise team leader Julie Everett at New Sarepta Baptist one Wednesday evening, and the men’s quartet sang it the following Sunday.

The song talks about a man wanting to get into heaven who comes to realize Christ is the answer; He’s the key to heaven.

“When they announced I was the songwriter, no one could believe it,” said Mullins, who credits music minister Mike Holley nearly a year later for suggesting that a song should be written about Memorial Day.

“After a little prodding from my daughter Beth, about 15 minutes later ‘Memorial Day’ was born,” Mullins said.

“America the beautiful, may your flag always wave,” is the first line. “Our country they protected; our future they held safe,” sets the stage for the riveting “All gave some; some gave all.”

After the men’s quartet sang it at New Sarepta, Mullins looked on the Internet to see who else might be interested in it and he came across the website for “Waterloo [N.Y.] Remembers.” He sent a copy to the village office and was invited with his wife to participate in Memorial Day activities there, which prominently featured his song and him as songwriter.

“At the VFW, they played it 22 times in a row,” Mullins said. “Another time I remember thinking, ‘Look here, I’m signing autographs! I cannot believe it; I don’t deserve this.’”

It’s not the first time Mullins has earned “15 minutes of fame.” He was named teacher of the year four times in the last 15 years at Sarepta High School; once was named teacher of the year for Webster Parish (county); and teams he has coached have won at several district and state events.

But over the last several years, Mullins said he has come to realize none of that is important. He began questioning the purpose for his life not long after he turned 40. The song “Christ Is the King” came from that. Preferring not to call himself “real religious,” Mullins said he tends toward “God things” over “church things.”

He considers “Memorial Day” to be a God thing.

Through an Internet search, he connected with Buddy Durrett, who led him to Cary Rutledge, who put the words to music and who sings the guitar-based rendition found on the Waterloo, N.Y., site: http://www.waterloony.com/Memorial%20Day%20Song.html.

This year Mullins worked with Tom Edmonds, music minister at First United Methodist Church in Bossier City, La., in moving “Memorial Day” to sheet music.

“Yes, I arrange music,” Edmonds said when Mullins called on a Sunday afternoon.

“I took Cary’s music and adapted for choir and piano -– and frills,” said Edmonds, a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “Next, I’m going to arrange it for an orchestra.”

Mullins isn’t standing still. He’s arranging for the high school juniors he teaches to plant flags in the Old Sarepta Cemetery for Memorial Day. Many of the gravestones date back to the Civil War.

He continues to write songs, teach, serve for the 10th year as a city alderman, love his wife and be a dad to his nearly-grown son and daughter, with still more time for responding to emails – at almullins@centurytel.net -– and phone calls -– 318-847-4832 -– about “Memorial Day.”

“I really think if you give of yourself, some good will come out of it....,” Mullins said. “I have learned that all these things I do to occupy my time don’t matter. All that matters is what you do on earth for God.”

Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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