Chief White Feather (also named Teyet Ramar)
When Franklin Roosevelt invited England’s King George VI for a visit to the United States in 1939, the significance of the invitation did not go unnoticed. No reigning British Monarch had ever set foot on American soil, not even in colonial times. Ever since America declared its independence from England in 1776, the United States and Great Britain oftentimes experienced tense relations. Roosevelt’s invitation to the King carried great significance in the history of Anglo-American relations, not only because of their colonial past, but more importantly, because it signified the dawn of a new era in American and British cooperation. With Europe poised on the brink of war, Franklin Roosevelt realized the necessity of fostering closer ties between the two democracies.
Americans heartily welcomed England’s royalty with thunderous applause and adulation when the King and Queen arrived in Washington on June 8, 1939. Crowds lined the streets for a chance to glimpse the King and Queen as they traveled throughout the city. In Washington, the couple was treated to all the formalities one would expect from a State Visit. There was an afternoon reception at the British Embassy, followed by a formal evening of dining and musical entertainment at the White House.
The evening’s program contained examples of traditional American music, and among those invited was a well-loved Indian baritone by the name of Chief White Feather. He began the program by singing the British National Anthem, followed by Rule Britannia.
Who then was this Indian? Chief White Feather (1908-1957) was the great-grandson of Sitting Bull by his fourth wife. His mother was a Christian and taught him about the Lord when he was small. However, the results came years later. At one time, his father traveled with a circus with his children. Somewhere in their travels, contacts were made that resulted in Chief receiving musical training. He had a wonderful baritone voice and became a professional opera singer.
Though his professional life was going well, his personal life was full of grief. Two sons were killed in an auto accident and his marriage was failing. He tried to commit suicide by jumping off a moving commuter train in New York City. Severely injured, including a broken back, he was taken to a hospital. He was semi-conscious while the emergency room doctor worked on him. The doctor spoke of things his mother had taught him as a child—God loved him, Jesus died for his sins. His mind was foggy and he couldn’t respond to the doctor, but it all came back to him as he laid in his hospital bed. He said yes to his Savior in his hospital room. God miraculously healed his wounds completely.
He subsequently sought Christian counselling and entered Bible college. After that, he began an evangelistic ministry throughout the U.S. and overseas, using his wonderful voice to praise the Lord. He used music from famous operatic arias to present the Gospel. An accomplished organist, he often accompanied himself as he sang.
And so, on that memorable evening, President Roosevelt had invited him to the White House to begin the musical entertainment for the Royal couple. The first two items, the National Anthem and Rule Britannia, were more or less expected, as a tribute to the King and Queen, but after the applause, instead of sitting down, he began singing again, much to the surprise of those gathered, because this was not part of the program. The song he chose had been very popular in Christian meetings since Beverly Shea had composed the music in 1933. It captivated the audience, as he sang the words of a most touching Gospel appeal.
I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand.
Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,
I’d rather be true to His holy name.
He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out of the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs,
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.
Who then was the composer? At the age of 23 George Beverly Shea (1909-2013), had a hard decision to make. With his wonderful deep voice he could accept a job offer in a secular singing position in New York City with a great salary and wide respect; or he could continue singing in churches and for Christian radio programs. While sitting at the family piano, he started to prepare a special hymn for the Sunday service. But suddenly, on the piano, he became aware of a poem by Mr. Rhea F. Miller, (written in 1922) which had been placed there by his mother Bev, who was becoming anxious about her son’s future. Looking at the words, he was convicted by the mention of “world-wide fame” and realized that his career lay in the direction of Christian music, rather than the secular world. Declaring to the Lord his intentions, he immediately began to compose music for the poem and used the song that same morning in his father’s church service. He has subsequently shared his song, “I’d Rather Have Jesus” with audiences around the world, especially in connection with Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows, bringing many to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and convicting many others of their worldly life-style.
Chief White Feather had been greatly moved by this song, and determined to sing it in the White House. The reaction to his singing was not the only spectacular event of that memorable evening, because the Chief was rewarded later by receiving the King’s handshake. He then bent down and asked the Queen, knowing that Queen Elizabeth was a religious woman, “Your Majesty, I would like to ask you, ‘Do you know Jesus as your personal Savior?’” Without hesitation, she looked at him and said, “Some people know about God, some know about Christ, but the Lord Jesus is the Possessor of my heart. . . . My husband is also a believer.” Then with a smile on his face, the King of England said, “I’d rather have Jesus, too.”
And that concludes this little bit of history. I have pieced it together from quite a number of articles from the Internet, some of which are slightly contradictory, and therefore I cannot guarantee that it is completely correct, but I believe the essence of it is true.
East Lawn Palms Cemetery, Tucson, Arizona
Philippians 3:7-10 — All those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ’s sake. Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ and be completely united with him. I no longer have a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law. I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is based on faith. All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.
Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.
–From the 1971 musical Godspell; by Stephen Schwartz, based on a prayer by St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)