Song Snapshots #19: Statue of Liberty (Couriers, Cathedrals, Ivan Parker)

Song Snapshots is a column featuring the stories behind new and classic Southern Gospel songs. In a special Memorial Day edition, here’s the story behind one of Southern Gospel’s all-time greatest songs, “Statue of Liberty.”

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the Southern Gospel classic “Statue of Liberty.”

Its writer, Neil Enloe of the Couriers, still vividly recalls the occasion that inspired the song: “We were invited to sing for an afternoon and evening boat excursion on the Hudson River. The Assemblies of God young people from both New Jersey and New York were together and had a boat ride. There were 2,400 kids on this big excursion boat we were using, but the auditorium only seated about 400 people. So we had to have six little twenty-minute concerts to get everyone in. At the end of one concert, it would take five or ten minutes for the people to leave, and then that many minutes for the next crowd to get back in.”

“During a break between those concerts,” he continues, “Dave [Kyllonen] and I both stepped out on the deck to get some fresh air. By now, the sun had gone down, and the lights of New York were beautiful. We went back in and did another one, and came back out after that. And this time, we were leaning against the outer rail, just watching the kids hold hands, and all that.”

“All of a sudden, it got quiet. Everyone goes ‘ooh’ and ‘aah,’ and we thought, ‘What on earth’s going on?’”

They turned to see the Statue of Liberty. “Boy, there she was, right above us. Everything American in me rose up. But I have a greater citizenship, and so my heart turned to that, too.”

He turned to Dave Kyllonen and said, ‘You know, there’s a song in there somewhere!”

Dave said, “Yeah, sure! Remember, we sing Gospel Music. Where’s the Gospel in the Statue of Liberty?”

Enloe replied, “It’s in there.”

The song took him three months to write. He explains his painstaking writing and editing process this way: “I just don’t let lyrics flow. I am terribly, terribly critical of my own lyrics. I don’t want to say something that’s not quite right. So I worked, and worked, and worked, and I revised, revised, revised. If there’s any success at all I’ve had as a writer, it’s been in the revision process, because what comes off of my tongue doesn’t really fly most of the time. I have to write it down and look at it and say, ‘No, that’s not right. How can I say that better?”

After he had completed the song, he sang it at a Couriers concert, which, as he recalls, was in a Methodist church near Allentown, Pennsylvania. He sang it as a solo for three months, “because evolution will set in. I did not want it to lose its direction and its feel. So I did it for three months so Dave and Duane [Nicholson] would not know that song any other way.”

After those three months, they began singing it as a group. “It took us a month to lock it in vocally,” he remembers. “It’s just a very strenuous song. If you notice, the melody starts in the basement and ends in the attic. The range is so wide that it almost takes a group to do it justice, although Larnelle Harris did it well.”

Enloe can be humble and rather understated; he observes, “Anyway, we recorded it three times, four times, depending on what the grouping, and it doesn’t seem to want to go away, for some reason.”

Though songs that combine patriotic themes with a Christian message are now common to the point of commonplace, the concept was revolutionary at the time. “Statue of Liberty” was among the first of its kind, and still stands at the head of its class. It is one of those songs that has been often imitated but never surpassed.

The song immediately caught on like wildfire. In the 1970s, the Blackwood Brothers, Blue Ridge Quartet, Cathedrals, Heaven Bound, Jerry and the Goffs, the Kingsmen, London Parris and the Apostles, and the Speer Family recorded the song. The song has established itself as a classic with its consistent presence in the genre ever since. In the 1980s, the Cathedrals and Hoppers each recorded versions. The Dixie Echoes, Glen Payne, and the Gaither Homecoming Friends each recorded versions in the 1990s. In the 2000s, Anthony Burger, the Cumberland Quartet, Ivan Parker (with the Gaither Homecoming Friends), Liberty Quartet, the Mark Trammell Quartet, and Triumphant Quartet all have recorded the song.

Last year, on the Fourth of July, Couriers tenor Duane Nicholson revealed a little-known chapter in the song’s history:

Neil Enloe would not reveal this to anyone so I will, after all these years! He was approached by officials coordinating the festivities for the nation’s 200th Birthday that was televised nationally to millions of people to use his song “Statue of Liberty.” The only problem was that they wanted him to change the second verse. Neil kindly thanked them for the invitation but declined to do so. His remark was that God gave Him the idea for the song and the second verse was the main theme of the song. He refused to compromise!

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8 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Daniel, thank you for sharing the story behind the song. This is one of my all time favorites and to know how it came about makes it more special.

  2. Comment

  3. Sorry about that slip of the finger. Correct me if Im wrong but I believe “Statue of Liberty” was voted song of the year 2 years in a row once for the Couriers version and the next year for the Cathedrals version. Im not sure if this happened before or since. Thanks Daniel.

    • Do you happen to know which awards ceremony this might have happened at?

      It wasn’t the Singing News Fan Awards; their awards around this time were:
      1974: “Touring That City” (popularized by The Inspirations)
      1975: “What a Beautiful Day” (popularized by The Happy Goodman Family)
      1976: “Jesus is Mine” (popularized by The Inspirations)

      (The Couriers did win a Dove Award in 1977 for Inspirational Album, though.)

      It did win Song of the Year in the Dove Awards, once; the awards here did not identify the song’s writer:
      1974 “Because He Lives” (Bill Gaither)
      1975 “One Day At A Time” (Marijohn Wilkin, Kris Kristofferson)
      1976 “Statue Of Liberty” (Neil Enloe)

      • I thought it was the Dove awards. Not really sure. Its been a long time.

  4. Excellent article and tribute to the song and its author, Mr. Mount. The song also resonated with Canadian fans and ministry followers of the Couriers for many years. While we cannot claim your nation’s citizenship as penned in Verse One, I’d like to think that we are equally patriotic, so the song’s theme captivated us. But as believers in the power of the cross. we are certainly citizens of that promised land, and so we can share in the unashamed proclamation of spiritual liberty penned in Verse Two.

    My cousin Lee Bell was so inspired by the song that he penned lyrics titled, Tower Of Peace, and sung it to Neil’s melody. It was his effort to capture a Canadian believer’s spiritual and patriotic anthem, in the spirit of “Statue”. While I’m not sure Neil appreciates anyone borrowing portions of his work, it was Lee’s tribute to Neil and as they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    Not too long ago, and after many years of being besieged by his Canadians fans to write something similar for them, Neil produced, “Canada, My Home”. The trio sing it magnificently on their album, “Special Moments”. I don’t wish to take away from the topic of your article by saying a lot about ‘Canada, My Home’, but if you only knew the intricate and talented weaving of lyrics in the song that illustrate my country and its bountiful blessings from an almighty God, well, you may have even guessed that Neil wrote it. It’s that good.

    The power of ‘Statue’ is certainly best experienced in person. My personal favorite was hearing the Couriers sing it live at their 50th Anniversary Concert in Lansdale, PA a few years back. I was one of many on their feet at the conclusion of that rendition.

    I particularly enjoyed reading your interview with Neil on how he composed the song, and the inspired edits and lyrical rewrites. I remember speaking with Neil about song writing during one of his visits to Oshawa. I believe he said that he wouldn’t know how to teach anyone how to sing or to write. I think he’s too humble in this regard. But whether he taught or not, we are sure fortunate that he gave us some great music over the years.

    And of course, one must acknowledge the skill of Neil’s partners, Dave and Duane. Dave anchors the baritone solidly all the way through. Duane’s tenor voice is expertly put to work, for as Neil told you, the song “ends in the attic”.

    Thanks for writing about this song!

    • I’m glad to do it! I had the privilege of hearing “Canada, My Home” not too long ago. I have heard him speak of the love he has for our Canadian brothers and sisters, and I thought it was a fitting tribute.

      I suppose my favorite live rendition I’ve heard them sing was at the 2009 NQC, where they made their first mainstage appearance in years and maybe decades. They walked on stage with an acapella rendition of “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.” I think that most of the audience didn’t know who they were or had forgotten them, but when they started singing, they knew they were experiencing a moment of magnificence! Then they sang “One Nation Over God,” and got a second standing ovation, before closing with “Statue of Liberty” and getting one of the biggest ovations/responses I remember experiencing at NQC. I wrote about the night here: