For more than 20 years, Brother Colbert and Joyce Croft have led the community in a Labor Day gospel sing.
That doesn’t change this coming holiday as the songwriting Crofts host the 23rd Annual Labor Day Gospel Sing.
Some aspects have changed through the years. Colbert Croft fell ill many years ago. Joyce Croft said this week she hopes he will be able to make at least a brief appearance during the event.
But even if he is unable to make the show, his spirit will be present throughout the afternoon and evening as several gospel artists perform, and many will likely sing some of the estimated 5,000 songs written by the Crofts.
Joyce Croft has loved telling the story about the time that she and Colbert attended an unrelated concert as audience members. As a gospel group sung the refrain, “I’m gonna walk, I’m gonna talk for my Lord,” the singers dedicated the gospel tune to its songwriters, the Crofts. The group had no idea that the Crofts were seated in the audience.
Many people know the Crofts’ music but don’t associate it with the songwriters. The Kingsmen and Marty Stuart, for example, lead a long list of musicians who have sung and recorded “I Can’t Even Walk (Without You Holding My Hand).”
But it was the Crofts who wrote those famous lines in 1974. It was the Crofts who penned the lines: “I can’t even walk without You holding my hand. The mountain’s too high and the valley’s too wide. Down on my knees, I learned to stand. And I can’t even walk without You holding my hand.”
It was the Crofts who penned other gospel classics such as “Flow Through Me,” “I Believe He Died For Me,” “Come Into the Presence,” “Almost Home.”
But people don’t always recognize the people who write even their favorite songs. Joyce Croft once recalled the time when she and her husband performed “I Can’t Even Walk.”
“The pastor’s wife said, ‘That is my favorite song.’ We thanked her and asked, ‘When did you find out we wrote it?’ She looked at us and said, ‘You wrote it?’”
Yes, and it was music that brought Colbert and Joyce together.
She had taken piano lessons since the age of 12 in Valdosta. Her high school senior year, Joyce performed in one of her music teacher’s programs. Colbert worked sound equipment, recording the show.
He asked Joyce out. She said yes. They have been married nearly 50 years now.
They also shared a musical rapport. Colbert would think of a song and sing it. Given her music studies, she picked up the tune of his singing and played the song.
They began writing their songs down. The young Colbert predicted they would have sheet music in the future. Little did he realize, they would eventually have sheet music for 5,000 songs.
They would share in the creative duties of writing songs from their home in Jasper, Fla. While pastoring at Faith Chapel in Jasper, they began a free Labor Day Gospel Sing in Hamilton County, Fla. In 1998, the Crofts moved to Colbert’s hometown of Valdosta.
A year later, Colbert suffered a debilitating stroke. With help from others, the Colberts have continued the annual Labor Day concert.
Despite Colbert’s health problems, the couple has endured. At times, he has been well. At others times, he has not been well. Still, they have occasions when they write a new song.
The 23rd Annual Labor Day Gospel Sing, features Darrell Luster, Naomi & The Segos, the Sammy Glass Family, New Tradition, the Johnson Two, Ken Williams, and Joyce Croft.
When: Monday, Sept. 5, Labor Day, with free supper, 3 p.m.; free gospel music, starts 5 p.m.
Where: Mathis City Auditorium, 2300 N. Ashley St.
NOTE: Both the supper and the music each start an hour earlier this year than from times past.