"Angel Band" is one of the most beautiful gospel hymns ever written. I first heard it by the Stanley Brothers years ago and their version remains my favorite one. Many other artists, including Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Skeeter Davis, among others, have recorded this tune during the years. And Jackie and Arlen, the Southern Gospel Singers, of course.
Arlen Vaden was born ca. 1930 in Trumann, Arkansas, and was also raised there. He married Jackie in 1951 and it turned out they harmonized well together when singing gospel tunes. So they decided to try out a career in music. Jackie and Arlen began to travel all over Northeast Arkansas and sang mostly in churches. Then, the couple landed a spot on KOSE, a small radio station on Osceola, Arkansas.
Their popularity grew and soon, they found themselves singing over KLCN in Blytheville. They were now called "The Southern Gospel Singers" and taped their shows, so other stations all across the country could broadcast them. As one of the most popular gospel duos during that era, they could be heard on WCKY (Cincinnati), WLAC (Nashville), KXEN (St. Louis) and border town stations XERF (Del Rio, Texas) and XEG (Fort Worth, Texas), among many others. They also began selling song books on their shows and got so much requests and fan mail from their shows that it got Trumann a new and larger post office.
By 1958, Arlen had replaced popular DJ Nelson King at WCKY. King hosted the popular "Hillbilly Jamboree" show and sold countless mail-order budget records on air. This pattern and the advent of rock'n'roll music led Arlen to his decision to found a record label: Vaden Records in Trumann, Arkansas. It had neithern own recording facilities nor a wide distribution. But it soon had artists that became well-known in rockabilly collector circles later in the 1970s: Bobby Brown, Larry Donn, Joyce Green, Bobby Lee Trammell, Teddy Redell and a couple of other local Arkansas singers recorded for Vaden from 1958 up to 1961. In addition to producing rock'n'roll records, Jackie and Arlen also recorded many gospel EPs for the label, which were sold over WCKY.
One of those gospel recordings is featured today. "Oh Come Angel Band" was a popular gospel tune by the time Jackie and Arlen recorded it. Its lyrics were written by Jefferson Hascall, originally entitled "My Latest Sun is Sinking Fast." Because of the common metre of his poem, the lyrics could be set to many hymn tunes. The first to put a melody behind the words was J.W. Dadmun in 1862 but the song is today associated with William Batchelder Bradbury's melody. In my opinion, Jackie ruins the chorus on this version here - she sings too high. It could have been a pretty nice rendition with just Arlen singing it.
Arlen closed down his record label in 1961 because of disappointing record sales and divorced from Jackie around the same time. Arlen Vaden died on May 10, 2003, in Memphis, Tennessee, and is buried on the Jonesboro Memorial Park Cemetery.