Word Records celebrates own homecoming at worship service

Label marks 60th birthday with concert

By Rachel Ambelang

Chris August and Sidewalk Prophets will perform at 7:30 today on Fountain Mall as a part of Baylor’s Homecoming worship service, but their performances will also be the conclusion of another celebration, the 60th anniversary of Word Records, a company started by a Baylor student.

“Having the 60th anniversary during Baylor’s Homecoming week I feel is very fitting,” Rod Riley, CEO of Word Records, said.

The company was founded by Jarrell McCraken, a 1950 Baylor graduate.

Robert Darden, an associate professor in Baylor’s journalism department, remembers when Word Records began to grow.

“It was a trend-setter and a powerhouse,” Darden said. “Word Records was the first to create the contemporary Christian genre.”

Darden said the company continued to look for Christian artists in any genre, from black gospel to metal, and grew to produce a number of successful Christian artists.

The company changed hands and cities a few times before moving to Nashville, Tenn., where Word Record’s legacy continues.

Today both past and present employees of Word Records will be on Baylor’s campus for the celebration, beginning with a performance by Chris August and Sidewalk Prophets during the morning Chapel services.

August is a relatively new artist to join Word Records as well as the Christian music genre. August began his music career by touring with pop sensations Ashlee Simpson and Ryan Cabrera as a keyboard player.

After trying to self-produce an album, August was discovered by Word Records and went on to have a record-breaking first year as a Christian solo artist.

He is currently on tour with his award-winning album “No Far Away,” along with David Crowder, Gungor and John Mark McMillan.

Sidewalk Prophets will also perform during Chapel and the Homecoming worship service. The band began when Dave Frey and Ben McDonald began writing music together in college.

After meeting bass player Cal Joslin and drummer Justin Nace, the group went to Nashville with nothing but a copy of their EP and constant prayers. While there, the band ran into a label executive and put on an impromptu concert, after which they were signed and began working on their first album. Sidewalk Prophets debuted that album, “These Simple Truths,” in 2009.

At 1:45 p.m., Word Record employees will travel to the company’s original building on Franklin Avenue, where Waco Mayor, Jim Bush, will say a few words to the Word Record’s staff.

This moment will be one of many throughout the day that will show Word employees where the company began.

“Word was based in Waco for 40 some odd years,” Riley said, “so the company and the city are intertwined.”

The Word Records 60th anniversary ceremony will begin at 5 p.m. with a performance from Uproar artists.

After speeches by President Ken Starr and Rod Riley, a plaques of recognition will be given to Baylor, the McCraken family and Kurt Kaiser, an award-winning Christian songwriter who joined Word Records in 1959 as Director of Artists and Repertoire.