An Interview with Ann Ballard

Southern Gospel songwriter Ann Ballard

Ann Ballard

Up until a few weeks ago, Ann Ballard was just a name on songwriter credits to me. I knew she’d written four Cathedrals songs (“It’s Almost Over,” “Land of Living,” “Roll Away Troubled River,” and “Scars and Stripes”) and a number of other easily recognizable songs, such as “Treasures Unseen,” “Gentle Shepherd,” and “It’ll Be Joy.” But that was all I knew.

In a recent conversation with Dianne Wilkinson, she mentioned having known Ann for decades, since well before either were discovered. She was gracious enough to put me in touch with Ann and arrange this interview. So sit back and watch the writer of some of your favorite songs become more than just a name!

Daniel: Many of my readers faithfully read album credits, but for those who don’t, you were a staff writer for Canaan in the ’70s and ’80s. What were some of the highlights of those years for you – some of the song cuts readers might recognize, and any honors those songs received?

Ann: The first thing that stands out is the fact that suddenly I was being called a professional song writer and was so lovingly accepted by the wonderful crew at the Canaan office!! I have no long drawn out story of struggling for my songs to be heard.

I took “It’ll Be Joy” to a friend and asked him to listen to it and tell me if it stood a chance in the “BIG BALL PARK”….he listened, picked up the phone and called Aaron Brown, head of the Canaanland office, played it for him and put me on the phone at which time I was looking for a hole in the floor!!

Aaron introduced himself and told me he wanted to publish it….I didn’t believe him!!

I began writing and going to Nashville with my tunes and in just a very short time I was getting cuts all over the place….

Some of my most recognized songs would be “Treasures Unseen”….”Land Of Living”….”It’s Almost Over”….”Gentle Shepherd”……”Oh What A Sunrise.”

Daniel: What sparked your interest in songwriting?

Ann: I never thought much about writing…only playing piano and singing..Writing didn’t begin until I was in my thirties….I made up songs in my childhood but all kids do that.

Daniel: I understand, via Dianne Wilkinson, that you toured and sang with a group in the 1970s, as she also did. What was the name of the group, and what part did you sing? Did you debut some of the songs we know now with this group?

Yes, we did have a group called The Monarchs ..we sang on the week-ends and then we were singing Thursday through Sunday evenings…ha.  We became pretty busy and loved it.

Daniel: How did you become a staff writer with Canaan? Did you have some independent cuts previously that came to their attention?

Ann: The “It’ll Be Joy” story just about covers it….They had never heard of Ann Ballard and I didn’t come close to having a contact before this…

Daniel: Which song was your first cut?

Ann: It’ll Be Joy was my first cut, followed by “Oh What A Sunrise.” I had more than one group do both.  Oh What A Sunrise was written in Memory of my Papa Jo….My Mother’s Dad.  It is sung many places now for funerals, as well as one called “Meet Me There.”

Daniel: You had four Cathedrals cuts that I’m aware of (please let me know if I’m missing any) – “Roll Away Troubled River” in 1980, “It’s Almost Over” in 1984, and “Land of Living” and “Scars and Stripes” in 1987. Even if it was only a handful of cuts, most Southern Gospel fans remember these four songs today–the original renditions and the numerous remakes. Do you remember what inspired any of those songs?

Ann: Many times my inspiration came from simply sitting down at my piano and just letting my heart began to feel and speak…the words and melody always comes at the same time.

Daniel: There is one other song I can’t pass up bringing up. The Florida Boys cut “Treasures Unseen” in 1977, and Greater Vision recently brought it back. What inspired that song?

Ann: Actually my Pastor, at the time…His message was that very subject…Treasures Unseen…I went home after Church and wrote it…I didn’t know it would do what it has…I was surprised!

Daniel: Which of your songs has been cut the most times? Which do you think it most likely people will still be singing a generation from now?

Ann: Again, Treasures Unseen would rank right up there…I suspose Oh What A Sunrise, Land Of Living among others….

Daniel: If this is a different song, which of your songs has meant the most to you personally? Which would you most like people to remember a generation from now? And why?

Ann: This is a tough one for any writer to answer, but I guess you know that..ha.  Land Of Living is special….Oh What A Sunrise….right now I’m loving the Perry’s cut on Gentle Shepherd and Mark Trammel’s cut on It’s Almost Over….both groups did a wonderful job on the songs and I love Mark and Libbi. The Perrys come to my hometown and I always enjoy them so much.

Daniel: What have you been doing in the years since the ’80s? Do you still write?

Ann: In the 80s my Mom and Dad needed me much of the time…I helped care for them and when Dad passed away I lived with Mom so much…then along came our precious Sammi Jo, our Son’s little girl and Jim and I helped with her and still do…she is now 7 years old and in school!!   I have written some but not full time…I hope to get back to it one of these days.

Daniel: I understand that songwriter Cyndi Ballard is your daughter. Did you teach her to write? What are some of her songs that readers might recognize?

Ann: About our daughter Cindi….No, I didn’t have to help her…ha….she is a great writer all on her own. She has written with Phil Cross, Jeff Steel, Wayne Haune, Joel Lindsey as well as many others. Some of her tunes you might know: “There Will Come A Day” (Brian Free), “I Will Find You Again” (Perrys), “Storms I Never See” (Legacy Five)…I could go on but I won’t. She did win a Dove for Song of the Year a few years back….

Daniel: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Ann: We could sit down together and talk for hours about all this, as you know, but I have hit the highlights as well as I could.

Cindi and I went to hear Signature Sound last Saturday evening here in Jonesboro….they are so great. Wayne Haune and Cindi worked at DayWind together for a few years and formed a sweet friendship so Wayne called her and told her to come so they could see each other. We both went and they are doing a Tribute Tour on the Cathedrals and it is amazing.  George and Glen were my friends and I really appreciate the way they are presenting them.

You don’t need to use this in your article but I will list a few of the groups who have recorded my tunes just so you will know a little more into on me and so-called career…ha!

  • Cathedrals
  • Dixie Echoes
  • Wendy Bagwell
  • Florida Boys
  • Inspirations
  • Greater Vision
  • Hoppers
  • Speers
  • Naomi
  • Poet Voices
  • Lewis Family
  • Walt Mills
  • Jimmy Davis
  • Lesters
  • Regeneration
  • Cumberland Boys
  • Ernie Haase
  • Chuck Wagon Gang
  • Perrys
  • Mark Trammell

There are more but I won’t bore you any further.

Daniel: This sort of thing doesn’t bore me! Thank you so much for agreeing to the interview, and for all the fascinating information!


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23 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. MTQ’s new recording of It’s Almost Over is absolutely superb! I purchased the CD with only a plastic cover with no song information (pre-release). Now that I have read your interview – I remember her name and that she had indeed written this song. Thanks for a great interview – and many great songs.

    JEB

    • You’re welcome on the first part – and I’m likewise grateful on the second!

  2. I’ll agree and say Trammell did an excellent job on “Almost Over”, which stands every bit toe to toe with the Cathedrals version. While some may love that Ann song the best, I’d have to go with “Treasures Unseen”. What a classic.

  3. I recognized the name. “Treasures Unseen” is … I don’t know just how to describe it, but it’s a wonderful song!

    Is Gentle Shepherd “the” Gentle Shepherd song? I thought that was Gaither.

    • No, it’s the one the Perrys cut and use as a concert opener.

      • OK, I can’t call the melody to mind, but I know what you’re talking about. Thanks!

  4. Thank you, Daniel, for a wonderful interview with someone very dear to me…another Northeast Arkansas girl who loves to write and whom the Lord has blessed in a tremendous way. And may I tell you, the beautiful picture you show here of Ann is just the way she has always looked. I tell her it just ain’t fair!!! Just kidding. Ann Ballard is beautiful on the inside, too. She and Jim are precious folks. I love ’em! Dianne.

    • Well, thank you for setting it up!

  5. What tremendous songs! I’ve sang “Treasure’s Unseen” in church. WOW! To get that Songwriter behind the song feel is just great. GREAT POST! Thanks.
    Rick Simpson

  6. “It’s Almost Over” is one of my favorite Cathedrals songs. I have also loved “Scars and Stripes” for years and would have heard it even prior to my hearing “It’s Almost Over” the first time. “Land of Living” is another favorite. In fact, I visited another church Sunday while on vacation, and one of my friends there who was singing in a duet that morning, asked me for the words to the first verse. Between the three of us, I think we got it, but they were afraid to try it without better memorization. 😀 I do like “Roll Away Troubled River” as well, but it would be last of the four mentioned. (But what a list it is).

  7. What a treasure…a lot of her songs sound the same…she has a lot of mid tempo, smooth songs…love those! I love how you can begin to recognize the personal touch a songwriter puts on a song…like you know when that’s a “Kyla Rowland” song, or you know a “Rodney” song when it’s played. The same is true with Ann…God has used her greatly!

  8. HELLO MARY ANN—I AM ENJOYING THE CD’S–THANKS. LOVE YOUR PICTURE. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK—-WORK YOU AND OTHERS ENJOY.

  9. True to her form, Mary Ann did not tell those of us that are her friends and sisters in Christ that she did this interview. Such a humble Sunday School teacher whe have! My love for her and her beautiful music is ever growing. She has a lot of beautiful songs that have never been published that I know are just praises for the Lord only. Thank you for the inspiration my sister.

  10. I have know Ann since before I was born literlly!!! I took my first steps in her daughters house!! My family used to follow them singing while I was growing up. I sang on stage with “The Ballards” when I was only 3, lol. Ann was like a grandmother to me! (Nana) I have been looking for their music, all I have are the old tapes. I love and miss yall!!! You know who I am!!

  11. Cyndi Ballard was the co-author of “There’ll Come a Day” by Brian Free & Assurance. Love that song.

    • Ah, I see Ann mentioned that already. Sorry, I had just found that out separately.

  12. I too like so many of you love this woman of God. She has been an amazing inspiration in my life and my walk with the Lord. I can still hear that beautiful voice sing out those wonderful songs that she has written for many years. The miles keep us apart but my heart is always full of love for her and her family. I too remember following her through West Tennessee those many years ago. I have been singing since I was a small girl because of her inspiration. I am looking for some of her music now to sing. I have found a few they are very hard to find. There are two in particular that I’m trying to fine “Oh What A Sunrise” and “I can Hardly Wait” I would love to have them in a performance track but if I could find sheet music that would be great too. If anyone out there in the Southern Gospel music field has any information please let me know. Mary Ann and Jim are wonderful people and I miss the wonderful sounds of that time of the Monarchs, Mary Ann , Jim, Bill and Katherine they were loved by some many. Katherine has gone on to be with our blessed Lord in that beautiful place called Heaven and someday I’ll hear her again with that beautiful voice. Thanks for this article so glad I found it.

    • Sorry – I don’t know of anyone selling either song as sheet music. But I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the article! It was an honor to interview her!

  13. I was in kindergarten with Cindy, & my first six years of learning her (Cindy) Father, Jim was my Principle at West Elementary. My Grandmother had some albums she often played when I came for the weekend to stay with Mamo & Papaw on Finch Road. I always loved listening to the Monarchs, and thought it was neat to have a famous Principle and Sometimes having Mrs. Ballard as a sub. Teacher. I often sang along with their music as the record player woke us up in the early wake up mornings staying with my Grand parents. Made for a happy day. As I got a little older, my mother would play the piano at Friendship Church & Center Hill Church. I sang In times like these, and another I can’t remember at this time. I just knew some day I would be able to follow Jim and Ann in their music carriers. I often think back at the influence the Monarchs had on my dream. I never got the chance to achieve that goal, but found it awesome that I knew a family of God that praised him through their music. I am very glad to have Cindy in all my classes from kindergarten to the day we graduated in 1978 from Greene Co. Tech. Cindy has went on to make a carrier in music, and I just helped my father lay brick and pour concrete and lay foundations with my father till I graduated . It was a wonderful memory that will even at age 52 in still enjoy the memory! God Bless Cindy, Ann. and Principle Jim Balllars. Thanks for the many blessings.Sincerely Ricky Joe White, 2012 at Mountain Home Arkansas!!!!

  14. We are trying to find the words and music to “Meet Me There” by Anne Ballard. We need this song for a funeral and have not been able to locate it in any Gospel store. We have tried CCL. Inc. Adm. Clear Box Rights, Daywind, etc and are getting desparate. Can you help us? John & Edna Amstutz We do not know how to contact Anne Ballard.

    • I’ll forward your comment to the last email I had for her.

  15. I am trying to get the sheet music for Scars and Stripes. Love the song but cannot find the music.

    • I’m sorry, I don’t know of anyone actively selling sheet music at the moment. It may take the remarkable task of finding a used copy somewhere.