When I began work on A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story back in 1986, I made a list of people I wanted to interview. I asked, “How many of these are still alive and how many are still with the ministry?” The answer: “They are all still alive and they are all still with the ministry.” That wasn’t exactly true, but it was remarkably close. Nearly all the men who started out with Billy Graham in the 1940s were still with him 40 years later, and most of the “newcomers” had been with him for at least a quarter century.
I have since watched the inevitable winnowing of this band of spiritual brothers who held up Graham’s arms over more than seven decades of globe-girdling ministry. Almost all are gone, and the recent death of Cliff Barrows, Graham’s music director, closest friend, and most trusted associate, marks the end of one of the most enduring partnerships in evangelistic history.
The two met in 1945 when Graham, scheduled to speak at a Youth for Christ (YFC) event in Asheville, North Carolina, learned that his regular song leader was not available. Someone suggested he enlist Cliff and Billie Barrows, two young musicians spending their honeymoon in the area. Graham was less than enthusiastic about using an unknown musical team, but he greeted the couple with a smile and said, “No time to be choosy.” The service exceeded expectations and when Graham visited England the next fall for a six-month tour, he invited Cliff and Billie as his musical team.
Barrows joined YFC and enjoyed success not only as a singer and gospel trombonist but also as a gifted evangelist. He intended to continue preaching but accepted the opportunity to assist Graham. Despite their drive, both men possessed amiable, conflict-avoiding spirits, and a genuine appreciation for the other’s abilities. It was during that first trip that, according to Barrows, “God really knit our hearts together in a special way.” Not long afterward, Graham asked Barrows to consider becoming a permanent member of his team.
Barrows recognized that he would probably never quite equal Graham’s success as an evangelist. He also saw that their most notable abilities were complementary rather than competitive; they could accomplish far more together than either could alone or, for that matter, in tandem with anyone else they knew.
One evening in Philadelphia, he and Billie came to Graham’s hotel room to give him their decision. “Bill,” Barrows said, using that address to distinguish his friend from his wife, “God has given us peace in our hearts. As long as you want us to, from now till the Lord returns, or whenever, I’ll be content to be your song leader, carry your bag, go anywhere, do anything you want me to do.”
It was a notable surrender of self, all the more so because it was volunteered rather than demanded. As we visited 40 years later in a nearly empty cafeteria near his home in Greenville, South Carolina, Barrows reflected on the sacrifice of ego he had made and said in a quiet tone, utterly free of dissimulation, “I still have that same peace of mind and heart. I think Bill knows that.”
As music director and stage manager for Graham’s crusades, Barrows appreciated soloists, musical groups, and moving testimonials from celebrities and others, but he always retained his conviction that “the Christian faith is a singing faith, and a good way to express it and share it with others is in community singing.”