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Marshall Keeble in 1960s | Photo courtesy of Abilene Christian University in Texas

The voice of Keeble

One of the famous traveling evangelist's 'boy preachers' donates sermon recordings to ACU.

Oh, what it would have been like to hear the voice of Marshall Keeble. The famous traveling evangelist died in 1968, so most Christians alive today never got to hear him preach in person. 

Marshall Keeble smiles from the cover of a vinyl record of his sermons, including “There’s Water in the Plan.”

Recordings of Keeble’s sermons were not hard to come by in the 1960s and 1970s. A few were even released in the 1990s. But now a new set of sermons is available online for free.

Abilene Christian University’s Margaret and Herman Brown Library has received recordings of three of Keeble’s sermons from the 1960s.  

Bob Hughes, a retired elder of the Kings Crossing Church of Christ in Corpus Christi, Texas, is the owner of the reels containing the recordings. He’s been working with ACU to make those sermons more widely available. 

The reels are an “invaluable addition” to the library, said Mac Ice, director of special collections at ACU.

Ice said the audio recordings Hughes had of Keeble sermons have been curated into a special collection that is now available to the public. 

“In them we hear him in his own voice doing what he most wanted to do: preach the Word,” Ice said. 

“Recordings preserve the tone, pace, inflection, cadence and the emphasis of a preacher’s word,” Ice said. “Having reel recordings is priceless.”


Mark Adams, minister for the Kings Crossing church, said: “Keeble was such an important figure. His approach wasn’t everyone’s, but he brought a lot of people together from different backgrounds.”

Born to former slaves 13 years after the end of the Civil War, Keeble brought an estimated 30,000 souls to Christ before his death at age 89. 

His 71-year ministry career included training many others to preach. 

Bob Hughes traveled and trained with Keeble in the late 1950s.

Bob Hughes traveled and trained with Keeble in the late 1950s.

Hughes attended Tennessee’s Nashville Christian Institute and spent much time learning from Keeble. 

“He said, ‘Boys, I’m doing the driving. You are holding the steering wheel,’” Hughes, 78, said of his travels with Keeble.

He recalls one trip where they rode together from Nashville to Searcy, Ark. It was a cold night in 1958. They stopped near Little Rock to warm up and get some food, but a restaurant owner denied service to the black minister and students. Keeble maintained his composure and his attitude. They went on, Hughes said. 

The next day Hughes witnessed Keeble preach to a mostly white audience without a bit of resentment.

“We saw the way he was, and we tried to emulate him,” Hughes said.

Years passed, he said, before he realized the significance of his travels with Keeble.

“In a day when few black preachers were even known among whites, none had as wide an audience among them as Keeble,” Ice said. “Hughes’ recordings, along with ephemeral items such as gospel meeting advertisement cards, are one-of-a-kind and complement the more widely distributed printed books and periodicals.”

Hughes’ recordings, along with other printed materials, including a gospel meeting card, are a great contribution to the library’s special collections, Ice said. 

“In them we hear him in his own voice doing what he most wanted to do: preach the Word.”

Keeble’s influence helped mold Hughes into the preacher and elder he became. He said the lessons he learned from Keeble have had a lifelong impact on him. 

For now, Hughes has donated three audio tapes of Keeble speaking to the ACU library. Two of the recordings contain sermons from a congregational homecoming. One was entitled “Christianity Is Automatic.”

“The world can’t understand the Church of Christ because it is automatic,” Keeble preached. “Nobody but God could make man out of dirt. There is not a Christian here that wasn’t automatically made. No cranking. Just press a button.”

Those recordings were made in July 1966. Hughes has more reel-to-reel recordings to go through. 

He believes there may be more of Keeble’s messages on those reels.

LISTEN to the recordings at digitalcommons.acu.edu/crs_audio/video/.

Filed under: Abilene Christian University ACU African American preachers boy preachers Church of Christ Keeble library Margaret and Herman Brown Library Marshall Keeble National News Partners recordings Sermons Top Stories Where can I hear Marshall Keeble preach

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