Behind the Song: He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels

When we hear a hymn, it is usually with the belief that the hymn writer was a believer.

However, the author of He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels, was led to Christ by

Ray Overholt

his own song.

Ray Overholt was born in 1924 in Gaines, Michigan. He was introduced to music by his mother, Clara, at a young age.

“My dad bought me a $3 guitar, and I began singing when I was 11,” Overholt told The Log. “I also listened to Gene Autry’s music and was inspired by him.”

By the time he was 10, Overholt had written his first song, “The Lonesome Cowboy,” and had learned to play keyboard and harmonica.

Overhold continued to write songs and as he grew older performed with his group, The Grand River Boys, and sang on a Grand Rapids radio station.

His first published song was “Will the Lord Look Down and Frown on Me.”

As a young man, he hosted a TV program “Ray’s Round Up” and even met his cowboy heroes such as Gene Autry, Stuart Hamblen and Hank Williams, among others.

When he left his show, he entered the nightclub circuit.

He recalled, “I had left my television show ‘Ray’s roundup’ and entered the nightclub scene. I was drinking pretty heavily. I began thinking there must be a better life than the nightclub, show-business whirlwind. I was so intent on changing my lifestyle that I went home and told my wife that I was quitting all of the smoking, drinking and cursing. I wanted to cleanup my own life.”

Overhold was at the height of his show-business career, when he wrote his famous song in 1958.

“I was playing in a country band at a tavern, a dance hall, in Battle Creek, when I wrote the song,” Overholt said. “Why God selected me to write the song, I don’t know. I drank a lot, was a profane individual and I needed a Savior.”

He turned to the Bible to research his song.

“One day I thought to myself: I’ve written secular songs, I’d like to write a song about Christ. I opened the Bible and began to read the portion of Scripture that describes Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, telling Peter to put away his sword,” Overholt said. “I read where Jesus told Peter that he could ask his Father and he would send twelve legions of angels. I didn’t know at the time that that would have been more than 72,000 angels.” {Matthew 26:53}

After reading the passage, Overholt says he thought “He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels” would be a good title for the song.

“I was playing in a nightclub in Battle Creek, Michigan, when the Lord impressed me to write the song. I wrote the first verse and put it in my guitar case,” Overholt said. “I then gave the club my notice that I was quitting. While I was trying to find out who this man Jesus was and writing the song, I was saved.”

While at the nightclub around the time he quit, he recalled “As I opened my guitar case to put my instrument away, one of the other musicians saw the music written out and he asked, ‘What are you doing there?’ I told him I was writing a song about Jesus. He asked the title and I told him. He said, ‘It will never go.’ I asked why? He said, ‘I don’t even like the title.’”

Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross

When he finished writing the song he sent it to a publishing house “which reluctantly agreed to publish it.” He sold the rights to Lillenas Publishing House for $25 in 1958.

But according to a 1972 article, when the sales began to clim, “the company gave Overholt full songwriter’s rights, allowing the composer to receive royalties and work full-time in gospel ministry.”

The song was nominated for three Gospel Music Association Dove Awards in consecutive years.

Overholt went on to describe how the song brought him to the Savior. “Sometime later I found myself singing at a small church. I sang He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels. Following my singing, a preacher spoke a message that gripped my heart. I knew I needed Christ. So I knelt there and accepted, as my Savior, the One whom I had been singing and writing about.”

Jesus could have stopped it all and called the angels to intercede but he chose to die for our sins

Ray Overholt became a traveling singer and preacher and wrote over 200 other songs. He performed for Christ until the very end, accompanied by his wife, Millie, and other family members.

Ray Overholt died on September 14, 2008 while getting in his van to head to a concert. His obituary recorded a granddaughter as saying, “”Isn’t that incredible? He never wanted to stop. When it was time to sing, he was raring to go. You put him on that stage, and he’d just come to life.”

He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels has been recorded by The Cathedrals, Kate Smith, Loretta Lynn, and Kenneth Copeland.


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