Those called to serve God often wrestle with what can be a big decision. Missionary work, and taking on a life of sacrifice can take a huge toll. But for Creek preacher Jimmy Anderson in Holdenville, Oklahoma, there was another dilemma—the choice of being an artist or a man of God.
Producer Allison Herrera tells us more about Anderson’s life as a visual artist and musician when his life took a different turn.
Jimmy Anderson is the minister at Many Springs Baptist Church in Holdenville, Oklahoma where he often sings in English and his native Creek. He spent 34 years as a missionary traveling all over the world before retiring in the 1990s. His love of music began at the church.
“The music started in my life I think…part of it started at Many Springs Church when I was young. Nathan Buck, my cousin, used to lead gospel singing. I used to go to that and listen and hear and I tried to start singing with them.”
Jimmy Anderson grew up in Holdenville in the 1930's as part of the Creek Nation. He spent some of his youth at Yuchi Boarding School during World War II, while his mother and aunt worked at a defense plant in California. To cure some of his homesickness, Anderson drew the backyard of his house from memory and he eventually developed a talent for sketching and painting. After attending Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, Anderson went on to study at Bacone College with noted painters Fred Beaver, Pablita Velarde and Dick West in the Oklahoma Flatstyle art movement.
While at Haskell, he also took up singing and formed a trio (and then a quartet) with his brother Richard, JB Dreadfulwater, and Mitcheal Beaver. Together, they were the Osceola Four. They sung throughout high school, auditioned for Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, and performed on classic programs like the Sooner Shindig show.
Below, watch a video created by FireThief Productions about Jimmy Anderson.
“I might pursue an Indian art career, but at the same time out of high school at Haskell, we formed a trio—an Indian trio—and we started singing. We got on television on Channel 4 and Channel 9 in Oklahoma City. We were singing pop songs plus spirituals. We recorded one song with Spike Jones Orchestra. And that got to be on an album. So we thought, ‘We might be the first all Indian quartet to make in big time if we pursue this.’ Kind of a question I had was, ‘What should I pursue? Should I go ahead with my Indian art, music career, what?’”
But, something kept bothering him. Every week in Oklahoma City, he saw Indian kids sitting outside of bars while their parents were drinking. His father died from alcoholism and he felt moved to do something. What direction should his life take? After fasting and praying, he chose to serve God and entered Seminary school after his time at OU. But, he never stopped singing.
During his missionary work, he and two of the Osceola Four toured the world as a revival and evangelistic team until a few years ago. Two of the members, JB Dreadfulwater and Mitcheal Beaver, died and his brother Richard can no longer sing.
“The feeling when I go out singing is that I miss the other three guys. Boy, I miss the harmony. So I tell people, ‘It’s just me now, so I’m three quarts low in the quartet because the three other guys are not there.’ I enjoy singing. I get many requests, but I sing anyways."
Jimmy Anderson still sings at Many Springs Baptist Church in Holdenville.
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- View a trailer for Sterlin Harjo's documentary This May Be The Last Time, featuring Jimmy Anderson
- Below, listen to the Osceola Trio sing the spiritual "Stand By Me":
Invisible Nations is brought to you by KOSU and Finding America, a national initiative produced by AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio Incorporated, and with financial support from the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, the Wyncote Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.