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Homeless Man's Hymn Becomes a Powerful Testimony

In A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Café, Leonard Sweet tells the story of the making of a film by two Londoners. In 1971 they began to film street people. The film captured the daily rituals of the homeless—their trials and joys. Some were drunk, others mentally disturbed. Some were articulate and others unintelligible. One of England's leading composers, Gavin Bryars, agreed to help with the audio aspects of the film. During his work, he became aware of a constant undercurrent of sound that appeared whenever one certain homeless man was filmed. At first, the sound seemed like muttered gibberish. But after removing the background noise, Bryars discovered the old man was singing.

Bryars learned that this beggar did not drink or socialize with others. The old man was alone, filthy, homeless, but he also had a sunny demeanor. What distinguished him from the others was his quiet singing. He would for hours sing the same thing over and over. The man's weak voice was untrained, but it never wavered from pitch. He repeated the simple phrases of the song over and over.

One day at the office the composer looped together the first 13 bars of the homeless man's song, preparing to add orchestration to the piece. He left the loop running while he went downstairs for a cup of coffee. When he returned, he found his fellow workers listening in subdued silence, and a few were even weeping. The old man's quiet, trembling voice had leaked from the recording room and transformed the office floor. Here is what he sang:

Jesus' blood never failed me yet
Never failed me yet
Jesus' blood never failed me yet
There's one thing I know
For he loves me so.

Though not a Christian, Bryars created and produced an accompaniment to this homeless person's song of trust in Jesus. The result was a CD entitled Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet. The old man died before he heard it.

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