Kenneth Davis, Jr.
Today many in my family are at Harding University attending a dedication ceremony of the unveiling of a statue of my grandfather, Kenneth Davis, Jr. I wish I could be there, but my grandmother sent me the information that is on the plaque near the statue. If you knew him or if you’d like to see why they are dedicating a statue to him, you might be interested in reading it, as well.
Neither words on a plaque nor a likeness in bronze can tell the measure of a man.
Less tangible than this finite tribute at the heart of the Harding Campus is the immeasurable significance of the life of Kenneth Davis, Jr.,
also known as “Uncle Bud.” Through word and song and deed, he inspired others to reach beyond themselves for excellence.
As lives touch lives, the world is a better place because he lived. May his influence continue to ripple through time.
May his spirit somehow transcend bronze, stone and engraved words, dwell in the hearts of passers-by and lead them to a closer walk with God.
The name “Uncle Bud” is an unlikely title for a strict and demanding choral musician. It started as a family nickname. Somewhere along the way, his college family, notably the singers in his Harding A Cappella Chorus, adopted the name for their beloved leader. The informal title hints at the lighter side of his otherwise intense nature, but never was it said without respect. Indeed, Uncle Bud often had a twinkle in his eye. His keen sense of humor suited him and never failed to uplift others.
Most of all, Davis inspired respect. As a Christian, he offered his best to his Divine Master. Through a disciplined life of his own and a natural ability to lead, Davis drew the best from his students and singers. He lived by a high standard. He didn’t so much impose his standard on others as he shared it. Out of respect and love, many who came under his influence did their best to reach higher planes. Never did it seem more possible than when hearts swelled in concert and praise to God and spirits soared on the wings of lofty choral music conducted by the consummately capable man, love and devotion to God shining in his eyes.
Davis was born in Dallas, Texas, to dedicated Christian parents, Kenneth and Alice Davis. The only boy in the family, he grew up with two sisters, Alice Ann (Beasley) and Tommie Jean (Sammis). When he was nine, the family moved to Morrillton, Arkansas, where he attended Harding Academy. When the academy and college moved to Searcy in 1934, the Davis family also relocated to Searcy. Young Kenneth graduated from Harding Academy in 1938 at age 15. He spent two years as an underclassman at Harding College before transferring to North Texas State College, where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree at age 19.
THE WAR YEARS
Davis enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps at age 20 in November 1942. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he fought in Maui, the Marshall Islands, Iwo Jima and Saipan, where he was gravely wounded, earning the Purple Heart. He was discharged in 1945 as a captain. He carried the scars of battle and shrapnel with him the rest of his life.
FURTHER EDUCATION & MENTORS
In 1948, Davis enrolled at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, where he studied under John Finley Williamson and George Lynn and sang in the famed Westminster Choir. He earned his Master of Music degree in 1950 from Westminster. As a post-graduate, Davis again studied music at North Texas State College and, from 1951 to 1953, also conducted the Southwestern Christian College A Cappella Chorus at Terrell, Texas. Davis earned his Doctor of Music in 1966 from Indiana State University.
Davis married Betty McDaniel in 1951. They had four sons – Larry, Stephen, Chris and Michael. At the time of his death, Kenneth Davis, Jr. was survived by Betty and three sons and their families, having lost son Chris in 1996 and a grandson, Lynn Davis, in 1994.
The Davis family is due much recognition for sharing husband and father during the busiest years of his career, a time when he was both a father figure to college students and a real father at home.
THE HARDING YEARS
Davis began his career at Harding College in 1953. He organized the Harding A Cappella Chorus, a group that earned a strong reputation for itself and the college under his guidance.In 1958 he organized the musical show group Belles & Beaux to tour with the United Service Organizations. Davis took the troupe on several USO tours to distant lands, including the Far East, where the Belles & Beaux cheered American troops with songs from home. He directed the group until 1973. Davis led the Harding A Cappella Chorus across both the United States and Europe, performing the best of choral music in praise of God and in celebration of the Christian life. The rich repertoire ranged from Classical compositions to indigenous American spirituals and folk songs. The chorus produced a remarkable corporate sound that exceeded the talents of the singers as individuals. Davis skillfully and passionately took the art of directing to an extraordinary level.
In 1982, Davis became chair of the Department of Music, holding the post until age 65. He remained with the university
one additional year as director of the A Cappella Chorus, ending his professional career in 1988.
In 1993, Harding University bestowed on Davis its highest honor: The Distinguished Alumnus Award
“Just a Closer Walk with Thee” embodied the aim of Davis’ life. His tenor solo rendition of the song was a much-requested favorite at concerts. A trademark hymn was “Sun of My Soul,” his introductory hymn for choral rehearsals.
“When Day’s Shadows Lengthen” was the signature hymn for the Harding A Cappella radio program “Hymns from Harding,” a devotional blend of scriptures and hymns broadcast for several years on stations across the country.
The final verse:
Blessed warfare over,
Endless rest alone;
Tears no more, nor sorrow,
Neither sign nor moan,
But a song of triumph
Round about the throne.
THE LAST YEARS
For most of his adult life and into his retirement, Davis served as an elder of the College Church of Christ in Searcy. Always supportive of mission efforts, he and Betty spent from 1991 to 1993 in Romania as mission workers. The couple returned to Romania for two weeks in 1997, with Davis, 75, leading a Harding A Cappella alumni chorus on a cross-country concert tour. Both the Romanian tour and A Cappella Chorus reunions on campus brightened life for Davis and his chorus alumni, who were always eager to sing again to the glory of God under his capable, inspired direction. Their beloved director never lost his touch, even as his memory lost its edge.
When his final illness took him home, his passing inspired many heartfelt responses, including a thoughtful question from a fellow educator:
“Is it possible that a man’s influence does not end with death; that his life can still serve to urge you Heavenward, to persevere in anticipation of joining him in that majestic torrent of praise and perfection that ushers in the dawn of Heaven?”
May it be so.