SALEM —Ernest Friesen was a local lumberman, musician and choir director who in 1948 recruited two of his Salem Box Company workers to start a men’s chorus. By the end of that year they had rallied nine other friends from various church backgrounds and occupations to get involved.
A whole lot of time has since passed, and many people have come and gone — including Friesen, who died in 1967 — but The Salem Singers this month move into their 65th year with the same goal — to lift the spirits of believers and to draw people seeking Christ into the Kingdom.
“Two dynamics have kept the group going,” said Sandy Lewis of Dundee, a nine-year member of The Salem Singers. “First, each member acknowledges his dependence on the Lord. Second, they have the unqualified support of their wives. These, coupled with their enthusiasm and desire to see people come to Christ, form an unbeatable combination.”
The group formally organized in Sept-ember 1948, comprising Christian laymen from many occupations and church affiliations throughout the Willamette Valley.
The Salem Singers have recorded more than 22 albums. The first record, a 78 rpm, contained “In His Care” on one side and “Since Jesus Took All My Sins Away” and “Jubilee” on the reverse. The second one, also a 78 rpm, contained “When I Survey” and “Valley of Peace.” The third recording, “The Salem Singers,” was the first 33-1/3 rpm long-play album. The most recent albums are “40 Favorites,” a two-CD set of favorite songs over the last 60-plus years, and “Boundless Love,” a collection that focuses on God’s infinite love.
In addition to their regular sacred concerts, The Salem Singers have also appeared on television, political rallies, and before national church conferences as participants in fund-raising programs for charitable and religious projects.
They have traveled extensively in Canada, Haiti, South Korea, the British Isles, China and throughout the continental United States.
In September 2011 the group did a concert tour in Lancaster County, Pa., scheduled to sing 15 concerts in nine days. Prior to beginning this tour, one of the original members, Wilbur Rickard, had to resign due to health issues and died shortly after the tour ended. The other remaining original member, 97-year-old Francis Wonderly, was emphatic about going to Pennsylvania with the rest of the group. On the afternoon of the last concert day in Pennsylvania, Wonderly also went to be with Jesus. To the best of anyone’s recollection, the final concert of the Pennsylvania tour was the only concert the group ever canceled.
The Salem Singers do not require a fee for a concert appearance, accepting a free-will offering instead. The group is always looking for new members — men who want to sing for the Lord. Potential members should be able to read or follow music, and be able to carry a tune. The group also seeks concert dates from churches and retirement homes, large and small, locally and beyond. For full information — including this fall’s concert schedule — Phone 1-855-SALEMSINGERS or go to www.salemsingers.org,