Donald Paul Hustad, Billy Graham crusade organist and long-time Southern Seminary professor, dies at 94

Communications Staff — June 28, 2013

Donald Paul Hustad, organist for Billy Graham crusades and long-time Southern Seminary professor, died June 22, according to his family. He was 94.

Hustad, who taught at the seminary for 40 years, leaves a legacy as one of evangelicalism’s most significant and influential musicians, according to R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Don Hustad was one of the giants of Christian music of the 20th century — an almost iconic figure whose personal ministry and professional artistry were combined in such a powerful way,” Mohler said.

“Don Hustad’s role with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the Moody Bible Institute and his long years at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary place him at the center of some of the most important events and institutions in evangelical history,” he said. “He was an artist, gentleman, warm-hearted believer and a great servant of the church.”

Born to Clara and Peter Hustad on Oct 2, 1918, Hustad grew up in Yellow Medicine County, Minn. Following the death of Peter Hustad, the family moved to Boone, Iowa, and lived in an institution for indigenous peoples. And since the family could not pay for their stay, Clara Hustad and her sons had to work.

In a 1987 interview with his biographer, Rhonda S. Furr, Hustad said: “I have to be grateful for this particular circumstance in my life because the chances are that had my father not been killed tragically, and had I not gone to this institution, I would never have been a musician. I would probably have been a happy farmer in western Minnesota.”

Hustad excelled at music from a young age. At eight years old, he played hymns in worship services and improvised accompaniments for the institution’s Christian radio station. According to Furr, Hustad by the end of grade school, mastered Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata, opus 13, Mendelssohn’s “Rondo Capriccioso” and Liszt’s transcription of the second “Hungarian Rhapsody.”

Following his graduation from John Fletcher College in University Park, Iowa, in 1940, Hustad became staff musician of Chicago’s WMBI, where he worked with soloist George Beverly Shea on a weekly broadcast called “Club Time.”

Years later, Shea recalled his first meeting of Hustad in his book, Then Sings My Soul. He writes:

“Another audition I remember was set up by Aunt Theresa, who had a friend ‘who should be playing organ for WMBI.’ When we heard him play one number we knew she was right. Don Hustad was hired on the spot.”

Hustad first encountered Billy Graham, who was at the time pastor of a small Baptist church in Western Springs, Ill., when he became the organist for the radio show, “Songs in the Night,” which aired many of Graham’s sermons. Shea was the featured soloist.

In February 1942, Hustad met Ruth McKeag in a local Baptist church. He later told Furr that he “met her on that occasion and fell head over heels in love. It really didn’t matter that she was engaged to someone else at the moment.” The attraction was mutual and the couple started dating, became engaged and married within the year. During the next decade, the new Hustads welcomed three children: Donna, 1945, Sondra, 1949 and Marcia, 1952.

Hustad attended Northwestern University, where he studied piano with Harold van Horne and completed the master of music degree in 1945. After that, he taught at Olivet Nazarene College in Kankakee, Ill. from 1946 to 1950.  Hustad then became director of the Sacred Music Department at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Ill.

During his 13 years at Moody, from 1950 to 1963, Hustad’s vision was to shape the programs there like a formal conservatory and he laid significant groundwork in that area. In fact, in a book about Christian higher education, Safiara A. Witmer called the Moody Chorale  under Hustad’s leadership “one of the finest music organizations in the country.”

In 1955, Hustad reentered Northwestern, this time seeking a doctorate in music. His dissertation represents the first major document on the complete organ works of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

In 1961 he became team organist for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He played during the Graham crusades and directed the Crusader Men choir for the “Hour of Decision” radio broadcasts. He worked with the association until 1967. In 1967, Hustad, after the completion of his degree, moved to Louisville, Ky., to serve as professor of church music at Southern Seminary.

He was the author of more than 100 articles about music in church life and five books, including Jubilate!, Jubilate II and True Worship: Reclaiming the Wonder & Majesty.

Adam W. Greenway, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry — the school that now houses all of the seminary’s church music education — said Hustad was a “remarkable combination of scholar-practitioner.

“Throughout his decades of service as professor of church music at Southern Seminary he impacted countless students in and out of the classroom, and his numerous publications extended his legacy far beyond this campus. Moreover, Hustad’s years of faithful service alongside Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea as Billy Graham’s crusade organist vividly displayed that core conviction which was always at the heart of his teaching ministry — that music has a legitimate role to play in both worship and evangelism.”

Thomas Bolton, another long-time music professor and dean of the former School of Church Music at Southern Seminary, is a contributor to the Festschrift published in Hustad’s honor in 2010, Jubilate, Amen!: A Festschrift in Honor of Donald Paul Hustad.

“It has been my privilege to know Don Hustad personally since 1996, although I certainly knew of him before that time,” Bolton said. “He was a most gracious and knowledgeable man who loved to think and write about the act of worship and how music fit into the fabric of church life. He was a talented and trained musician who understood that all types of music were appropriate when worshipping almighty God, but he was concerned that any music used in worship should be theologically sound and authentically presented.

“The world has lost a giant in the church music world who contributed much to the life of Southern Seminary while he was with us as professor and senior professor, and I have lost a dear friend,” Bolton said.

According to an obituary published by Christianity Today, Hustad in 1989 received the Fellow of the Hymn Society award for his contributions to American hymnody. In 2006, Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., awarded him an honorary doctorate in fine arts. In 2008, the American Choral Director’s Association Southern Division Conference honored Hustad for his contributions to church music. Further, he earned diplomas as an Associate of the American Guild of Organists and a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, London, UK.

Mohler stated his condolences for the Hustad family: “Along with the entire Southern Seminary family Mary and I are praying for Ruth Hustad and for the Hustad family. At this time, Southern Seminary has lost a dear friend.”

Survivors include his wife, Ruth McKeag Hustad, three daughters, along with four granddaughters, and eight great-grandchildren.

The Hustad family will hold a memorial service Saturday, July 27 at 2 p.m. at Western Springs Baptist Church, 4475 Wolf Road, Western Springs, IL 60558.

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