Some of the most memorable songs in the Great American Songbook are tied to the holidays. Celebrations just wouldn’t seem as festive without Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” or Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” providing a suitable soundtrack for holiday gatherings.
As Easter Sunday approaches, there’s no dearth of songs that poignantly celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. From such country music classics as “The Old Rugged Cross” to more contemporary Christian music fare such as Casting Crowns “Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)” and Kari Jobe’s “Forever,” songwriters have long been inspired by the power of the gospel.
Here are just a few of the many memorable songs that put words and melody to the story of Easter.
Dolly Parton, “He’s Alive”
Written by Kentucky born singer/songwriter Don Francisco, this Easter classic is a detailed narrative of the crucifixion and resurrection that won the Dove Award for Song of the Year in 1980. It’s been recorded by many artists over the years, but Parton recorded the definitive version as the closing track on her 1989 album White Limozeen. She performed the song on the CMA Awards that year in an electrifying performance backed by Nashville’s Christ Church Choir.
Nicole C. Mullen, “Redeemer”
This powerful anthem won the Dove Award for Song of the Year in 2001, and Mullen’s stunning performance remains one of the most memorable moments in the distinction’s history. Ask just about any Christian music fan and they’ll cite this song as one of their faves because of its compelling lyrics and the passion in Mullen’s performance. Inspired by the Biblical story of Job, Mullen wrote the song based on Job’s quote: “I know that my redeemer lives and at the last day, He will stand upon the Earth.”
Alan Jackson, “The Old Rugged Cross”
Written by American hymn writer/preacher George Bennard in 1913, this beloved hymn has become one of the most recorded gospel songs in history. It has been covered by numerous artists, including Elvis Presley, Anne Murray, Marvin Sapp, Brad Paisley and others, but Alan Jackson’s stripped-down, heartfelt version from his Precious Memories collection is a stand-out.
Third Day, “Thief”
This somber ballad is unique in that it’s written from the perspective of one of the two criminals crucified beside Jesus Christ. Its lyrics are inspired by the scripture in Luke 23:39-43 that reads: “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”
Kirk Franklin, “Don’t Cry”
This tender, uplifting number from The Rebirth of Kirk Franklin reminds believers that there’s no need for tears and doubt. The opening lines state: “Why do you cry? He has risen / Why are you weeping? He’s not dead / Why do you cry? He has risen / Why are you weeping? He’s not dead.”
Casting Crowns, “Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)”
One of the strongest tracks from the platinum-selling album Until the Whole World Hears, this song touches on the tenets of the Christian faith from Christ’s birth to death and it’s significance for believers. The chorus sums it all up: “Living, He loved me / Dying, He saved me / Buried, He carried my sins far away / Rising, He justified freely forever / One day He’s coming / Oh glorious day, oh glorious day.”
The Crabb Family, “The Cross”
Written by family patriarch Gerald Crabb, this Southern Gospel classic focuses on the cross — as many Easter anthems do — but the chorus drives home the important point that “Though He could have walked away He chose the cross.” Many resurrection songs speak of Jesus’ physical sacrifice, but this powerful tune reminds believers it was a choice. It’s a poignant tribute, and Jason Crabb’s evocative lead vocals make this song especially memorable.
Kari Jobe, “Forever”
The first single from the 2014 album Majestic, Jobe says this song was inspired by Revelation 5:13, which says, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”” Brought to life by Jobe’s emotional delivery and vivid lyrics, the song paints a picture of the crucifixion and resurrection.
?Chris Tomlin, “At the Cross (Love Ran Red)”
Culled from his tenth studio album, 2014’s Love Ran Red, this song was penned by Matt Armstrong, Ed Cash, Matt Redman, Jonas Myrin and Tomlin. The chorus illustrates the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice: “At the cross / At the cross / I surrender my life I’m in awe of You / I’m in awe of You / Where Your love ran red / And my sin washed white / I owe all to You / I owe all to You, Jesus.”
Newsboys, “We Believe”
A hit single from the Newsboys’ 2013 album Restart, this high-energy cut was also featured on the Billy Graham tribute album, My Hope: Songs Inspired by the Message and Mission of Billy Graham. The first verse speaks of the turmoil happening in the world and the chorus points to the hope found in the cross as it sums up the Christian faith.