Aaron Wilburn, one of Southern gospel music’s most prolific songwriters and a well-known Christian comedian, is returning to Bethesda Baptist Church, where he first performed in 1975.
Wilburn, who is known for his many appearances with Bill Gaither’s Homecoming TV series, will perform at 6 p.m. Sept. 16 at the church, located off Gordon Highway at 5793 Old Augusta Highway between Grovetown and Harlem.
There is no charge, but an offering will be taken.
Wilburn made his mark in Christian music in the 1970s with The Happy Goodman Family, featuring husband and wife Howard and Vestal Goodman.
They recorded a song Wilburn wrote with Eddie Crook, What a Beautiful Day, that became a Southern gospel classic. They also recorded Wilburn’s That Sounds Like Home to Me and The Eastern Gate (co-authored with Johnny Cook).
Wilburn estimates he has authored and co-authored more than 1,500 songs, recorded by artists such as Tammy Wynette, The Lewis Family, Lee Greenwood, Jeff & Sheri Easter, The Oak Ridge Boys and many others.
Wilburn and his wife, Rober-ta, co-wrote Four Days Late, recorded by Karen Peck & New River, and he and Eddie Crook co-wrote Just Any Day Now, popularized by the bluegrass group Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver.
It’s fitting that The Happy Goodman Family helped Wilburn get established in gospel music.
Growing up poor near Ardmore, Ala., he would go to a neighbor’s house to watch the Goodmans’ show on TV because his family couldn’t afford one.
“We didn’t have indoor plumbing until we moved to Huntsville,” Wilburn said by phone. “My family was sharecropping farmers. My dad, who died in 1971, ... trapped minks and muskrats and sold their furs. We worked in fields chopping cotton growing up.”
Wilburn’s family sang together in church, but that was the extent of his knowledge about performing.
“I probably didn’t even realize there were professional artists until I was 11 or 12 years old,” he said. “My sister and her boyfriend took me when I was 13 to see (country music superstar) Ernest Tubb in Huntsville at Dallas Street Armory.”
At 15, Wilburn caught a big break when the Georgia-based gospel group The Sego Brothers & Naomi recorded a song he had written called Modern Age of Progress.
“I found out somehow that they were going to be at a television station in Huntsville, and I gave them a tape of that song,” he said.
“They recorded it almost immediately, and when I went with The Happy Goodman Family at 21, Naomi and the Sego Brothers still were singing it.”
One of his favorite groups to write for has been The Lewis Family bluegrass-gospel group of Lincolnton, Ga.
“I worked with Little Roy Lewis and Lizzy Long just a month ago, and I co-wrote Dying to Live and She’s Loved Him for So Many Years with Jeff and Sheri Easter,” he said. Sheri’s mother is The Lewis Family’s lead vocalist, Polly Lewis Copsey.
“I also wrote God’s Little People and I Ain’t a Quittin’ Now that were recorded by Lewis Phillips (the son of Janis Lewis Phillips).”
Wilburn said he didn’t intend to become a Christian humorist. It happened because it was just his nature to produce funny songs and stories, he said.
“I had never really listened to humorists or comedians until after I was doing what I was doing,” he said. “People kept saying, ‘You’ve got a warped sense of humor. Have you got any recordings of your stories?’ I had never thought about it, but I started making some recordings of them and people started buying them.”
Not everything has been funny in Wilburn’s life, of course. That was true in May 2010 when he underwent a kidney transplant, with the donor being his sister-in-law.
Wilburn, however, has managed to turn that into one of his stage stories.
He told one interviewer, “I was thrilled to get the kidney from my sister-in-law, but the downside is now, every time I go to the mall, I have to look at purses.”