Carl Stuart Hamblen was a real cowboy, born in Texas and the son of a traveling Methodist preacher.
Not an ordinary cowboy, but one who could sing and tell great stories. At age 18 he became the first singing cowboy on Texas radio. At age 21, he won a Texas talent show and used his $100 cash prize to move to New Jersey, where he recorded his first four cowboy songs. Moving on to California, the singing cowboy began a new radio show singing and sharing stories as “Cowboy Joe.”
He joined the original Beverly Hill Billies, radio’s popular western singing group, and soon branched out to form his own group, King Cowboy and His Woolly West Revue. By age 23, the singing cowboy was the most popular radio personality on the west coast with his radio programs: Covered Wagon Jubilee, and the Cowboy Church of the Air.
His radio success was matched by movie success as he co-starred in movies with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Wild Bill Elliott and John Wayne. He also appeared as a guest on shows with Johnny Cash and Jimmy Dean.
The singing cowboy could not cope with the pressures of his career and turned to alcohol for relief. Drinking landed him in jail many times for public brawling. He once identified himself as the “original juvenile delinquent.” Even his radio sponsors were forced to regularly bail him out of jail. The singing cowboy’s drinking and gambling problems dealt a blow to his life and career.
The singing cowboy’s story of musical success but personal failure has several parallels to that of a singing shepherd named David. The Bible introduces him as God’s choice to be the future king of Israel (I Samuel 16). The Bible describes David as “ruddy, having beautiful eyes and handsome.” Saul was still king, but Samuel secretly anointed David to replace Saul, and we read that “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him” (16:13).
David was also a skilled musician. He was commanded to play and sing for Saul because he was “skillful in playing, a man of courage, prudent in speech, and the Lord was with him” (16:18). In the Bible book of Psalms we find many of the songs that David probably wrote and sang centuries ago.
David’s fame and influence continued to grow through his conflicts with Saul, his killing of Goliath the giant, and from winning numerous battles with pagan kings in Palestine. He became the undisputed king of Israel and its wealthiest citizen.
David’s personal life was broken by lust for Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. David secretly raped Uriah’s wife, and she became pregnant (2 Samuel 11:5). David increased this evil by having Uriah killed in battle and taking Bathsheba as his wife. When David was confronted by Nathan the prophet for these evil actions, he cried out for mercy and forgiveness in one of his most familiar songs (Psalm 51).
God forgave David for his great evil, and spared his life, but also promised that consequences of his sin would trouble the remainder of his life (2 Samuel 12:10-14):
The sword would never leave David’s house because he despised God.
Trouble would rise against him from within his own house.
His wives would be taken from him and given to others.
He had sinned secretly, but God would punish him publicly.
David’s sin was forgiven, but Bathsheba’s son would die.
God’s forgiveness allowed The Singing Shepherd to live many more years and see his son Solomon become King of Israel, but he never fully escaped the consequences of his evil.
At age 41, the singing cowboy met a young man named Billy Graham who was conducting a tent crusade in Los Angeles, and the two men quickly developed a friendship. The cowboy attended Graham’s crusade for several nights. After years of struggle with alcohol, gambling, and personal problems, he experienced a spiritual rebirth. He gave his heart to Christ and cried out for forgiveness.
Fourteen years later, on Graham’s first coast-to-coast television broadcast, Hamblen shared about his faith and sang/spoke his most famous hymn, “It Is No Secret What God Can Do.”
Hamblen was later fired from his radio show because he refused to read commercials from his main sponsor — a beer company.
Hamblen died in March 1989. He remained until his death a talented singing cowboy who found his greatest hope and success in a personal relationship with Jesus.
Mike Hopper is pastor of Faith United Methodist Church in Greenfield. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.