Baylor Mourns Passing of Modern Church Music Pioneer Kurt Kaiser
WACO, Texas (Nov. 13, 2018) - Baylor University is mourning the passing of composer, arranger and modern church music pioneer Kurt Kaiser, recipient of Baylor’s 2017 Pro Ecclesia Medal of Service. Kaiser, also holder of an honorary doctor of humane letters from the University and former director of the Baylor Religious Hour Choir, died Nov. 12 in Waco home after a long illness. He was 83.
Visitation with the family will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at 3800 Green Leaf Drive in Waco. A Celebration of Life service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at First Baptist Church of Waco, 500 Webster Ave. A reception will follow the service.
Kaiser composed more than 300 copyrighted songs, including the well-known “Pass it On” and “Oh How He Loves You and Me.” He also arranged and produced albums for many gifted artists, becoming a master at matching singers with the right tunes.
From 1965 through 1970, Kaiser served as director of the Baylor Religious Hour Choir. At the same time, Kaiser and his friend Ralph Carmichael began writing Christian musicals geared to reach young people. Their first musical, “Tell It Like It Is,” included “Pass It On,” which the BRH Choir performed on NBC television in New York City.
“For more than five decades, Kurt Kaiser enriched the world with a Christian message of hope as a pioneer of modern church music,” said Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D. “It was an honor to welcome Kurt and his family to campus during Homecoming 2017 and recognize him for his legacy of impact as he freely and beautifully shared his gifts throughout the world, in Waco and at Baylor. Our deepest prayers are with the Kaiser family. We give thanks for the remarkable life, immeasurable talent and Christian witness of Kurt Kaiser.”
Related: Watch the October 2017 video honoring Kurt Kaiser with Baylor University’s Pro Ecclesia Medal of Service.
Kaiser studied at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and earned two degrees from Northwestern University. He met Jarrell McCracken through a mutual friend, and soon Kaiser joined McCracken’s Christian music company, Word Inc. In 1959, Kaiser moved to Waco and started as director of artists and repertoire, later becoming vice president and director of music for Word. After retiring from Word, he began Kurt Kaiser Music. He helped found Waco’s DaySpring Baptist Church, where he directed the choir for 10 years.
“Kurt and I worked together planning worship and music at DaySpring for nearly 13 years,” said Burt L. Burleson, D.Min., University Chaplain at Baylor. “It was one of the great honors of my life to be involved in ministry with him having been blessed by his music as a young person. Like so many others experienced, Kurt ministered often to my weary soul from the piano, but he also became a source of gentle encouragement in my life.”
Kaiser’s work was most influential during the late 1960s and 1970s on the youth musical movement, one of the most important forerunners of modern worship music, said Randall Bradley, D.M.A., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Music, professor of church music and director of the Church Music Program and the Center for Christian Music Studies in the Baylor School of Music.
Using instrumental and vocal idioms of the day, Kaiser’s music drew millions of youth to the church where, for the first time, composers provided music that connected to them and the secular music of their day, Bradley said.
“In my years at Baylor, Kurt became a good friend to me, and he often encouraged my work through participating in church music events, coming to concerts and genuinely caring about all aspects of the music of the church,” Bradley said. “He was a masterful composer, a brilliant improviser and his piano playing was flawless. He had the ability to draw the listener into his music without ever being showy or gaudy. The subtle and delicate nature of his music reflected his personality and ideas about music.”
Kaiser also recorded numerous solo albums at the piano, in addition to conducting choral workshops and performing solo concerts. He received a Dove Award for his album “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.” In 1992, he received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Kaiser received the Hines Sims Award for Faithfulness in Service. In 2001, he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Kaiser holds honorary doctorates from Trinity College in Illinois and from Baylor, which was presented in 1995.
The Kaisers’ four children hold five Baylor degrees among them: Kristine Olson, B.S.Ed. ’80; Kent Kaiser, B.B.A. ’81; Craig Kaiser, B.A. ’84, J.D. ’86; and Tim Kaiser, B.B.A. ’85.
Kaiser and his wife, Pat, have supported many areas of the University, including the Baylor Bear Foundation, The Dick Baker Baylor Religious Hour Choir Fund and both men’s and women’s basketball excellence funds. In addition to the Pro Ecclesia award, Kaiser received The W.R. White Award and had been a member of the School of Music Board of Advisors, Friends of Truett Seminary, Baylor Waco Foundation, the Basketball Practice Facility Steering Committee, Old Main Society, 1845 Society, the Fast Break Club, the Tip Off Club and Strecker Museum Friends.
In 2001, Dr. W. Scott Livesay established The Kurt and Patricia Kaiser Endowed Music Scholarship Fund for Baylor students enrolled in the School of Music and to honor Kaiser for his contributions to Christian music and the Baylor music program.
Bradley said Kaiser faithfully supported church music, particularly at Baylor and the Center for Christian Music Studies, through his ongoing presence, mentoring dozens of students and inspiring many through his choral arranging and piano artistry. In 2001, he arranged “Traveling Mercies,” a benediction written by Billy Crockett and Milton Brasher-Cunningham, for the Baylor Men’s Choir. Since that time, the choir has closed every tour performance and its spring concert with Kaiser’s arrangement.
Related: Listen to the Baylor Men’s Choir performance of “Traveling Mercies” in remembrance of Kurt Kaiser.
“We think it is fitting to offer this blessing on his well-lived life,” Bradley said.
- Traveling Mercies
By Billy Crockett and Milton Brasher-Cunningham
- Go in peace, live in grace, trust in the arms that will hold you.
Go in peace, live in grace, trust God’s love.
- Take bread for the journey and strength for the fight,
Comfort to sleep through the night,
- Wisdom to choose at the fork in the road,
And a Heart that knows the way home.
- And for the faithful, and for the weary,
And for the hopeful, here is my prayer.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.