Glenn T. Settle historical marker

Glenn T. Settle 1894-1967 (J-114)

Founder of Wings Over Jordan Choir and Negro Hour radio show, 1937. He promoted traditional spiritual music & racial harmony. Born 2 mi. SW.

Location: NC 65/87 at Wentworth Street west of Reidsville
County: Rockingham
Original Date Cast: 2013

Glenn T. Settle, founder of the Wings Over Jordan Choir, was born in a log cabin on Nubbin Ridge near Reidsville on October 10, 1894. His parents, Reuben and Mary Settle, were sharecroppers who in 1902 moved the family to Pennsylvania in search of a better life. The greatest influence in Settle’s life was his grandfather, Tom, who had been a slave for the prominent Settle family of Reidsville.

In 1917 Glenn Settle married and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. There Settle worked a variety of jobs before becoming an ordained Baptist minister in 1922. Seeking to inspire and encourage musical tradition at his new church, Cleveland’s Gethsemane Baptist, in 1935 he took on the role of choir director as well as minister.

In 1937 Settle and his a cappella choir, by then known as Wings Over Jordan, were given a program on the local radio station, WGAR. Initially called the Negro Hour, the show was broadcast nationally on CBS radio network as Wings Over Jordan beginning in January 1938. The program featured the choir, performing gospel songs and spirituals, as well as African American writers, leaders, and activists. The radio show offered its national audience a glimpse of black culture and talent not available previously.

With a primary goal of promoting “goodwill and understanding between the races,” Wings Over Jordan toured the nation, refusing to perform before segregated audiences. Many scholars now recognize the choir’s influence as an early voice in the civil rights movement. In The Power of Black Music, Samuel A. Floyd Jr., wrote that “the choir’s popularity among both blacks and white, its refusal to accommodate segregation at its concerts, its stature as a radio-network fixture, and its presentation of the spirituals both as culturally viable aesthetic expressions and as songs of freedom, faith, and documentation, set the precedent and the context for southern protest activity among blacks in the 1950s.” In a 2008 story broadcast on National Public Radio, one listener recalled that "the messages that (Wings Over Jordan) sang gave the black people hope.”

The Reverend Glenn Settle died on July 19, 1967, and is buried in Los Angeles, where he lived in his final years. The Wings Over Jordan Celebration Chorus was formed in 1988 “to keep the Negro spiritual alive,” according to chorus member (and Settle granddaughter) Teretha Settle.

Samuel Floyd Jr., The Power of Black Music (1995)
Horace Boyer, The Golden Age of Gospel (2000)
Isaiah R. McGee, The Origin and Historical Development of Prominent Professional Black Choirs in the United States (2007)
Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 12, 201
“Radio Show Chronicled Blacks' Harsh Realities,” National Public Radio (March 2008)

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