It’s June, the month of weddings. Which means it’s also the month of anniversaries.
My wife Jennifer and I today celebrate our 16th anniversary.
Paul Stookey of “Peter, Paul, and Mary” was the first to record this week’s oldie that that he wrote and is often performed at wedding ceremonies. Stookey wrote about it in a June 1, 1993 column:
The impact of the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy was devastating. The arts became more and more expressive of the dark mood of the country. Gone were the dreams of a better tomorrow. The only choices left seemed to be cynicism or escape.
Or so it felt to me. At the age of 30 I found success increasingly meaningless. The more popular Peter, Paul and Mary became, the emptier I felt.
I was performing 150 nights a year and devoting the remaining days to photo shoots, interviews, recordings and television appearances. I was losing touch with the very ethic I defended in song.
Backstage at peace rallies, I watched in dismay as arguments and manipulation replaced mutual concern. I asked myself: Is life nothing more than some great scramble for advantage? What is it all for? If there is some order in life, how does one go about finding it? Is “order” what some call God?
During this searching time of my life I visited a friend in Woodstock who was recovering from a serious motorcycle accident. He provided the advice: “Read the Bible.”
I took the suggestion seriously. I started at Genesis and read the Bible whenever I could. I was fascinated, but it seemed like distant history. Then, after a concert in Abilene, Texas, a fan introduced me to the promises of Christ. He prayed with me. I knelt praying to a creator I had only hoped was there.
Suddenly I felt a sure, comforting answer.
After that, I began to pray constantly.
I discovered a wonderful closeness. God was with me in every situation. He was a best friend.
And so it was only natural that I would turn to him when, during the trio’s tour in the fall of 1969, Peter asked if I would sing a song to bless his wedding. Though I immediately answered, “Of course,” I didn’t tell Peter that it wasn’t going to be me who would bless his wedding.
One of my first days home I retreated to the small basement studio in our house. After tuning up my 12-string guitar, I sat in silence for a moment.
Lord, I prayed, nothing would bless this wedding ceremony more than Your presence. How would You manifest Yourself?
And the lyrics came:
I am now to be among you
at the calling of your hearts,
Rest assured this troubador
is acting on My part.
The union of your spirits here
has caused Me to remain,
For whenever two or more of you
are gathered in My name
There am I, there is love…
For the next hour I strung the lyrics together into the format of a song. The last section paraphrased a sentiment that had been voiced by another songwriting friend of mine, Jim Mason. He’d asked, “Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?” The song provided the answer, “There is love.”
Just one hour before the wedding ceremony, I sang it to my wife, Betty. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “But they won’t understand ‘I am now to be among you.’ They’re going to think you’re presuming to be God.”
I thought about what she said, and changed the words.
The song was sung at the ceremony: “He is now to be among you…” The blessing had been asked for and given. It would never be sung again, I thought. It was for Peter.
Several weeks later I was waiting backstage before my solo portion of a Peter, Paul and Mary concert when Peter asked, “Why don’t you sing the song you sang at my wedding?”
“I couldn’t do that,” I said. “It was just for your wedding.”
He looked at me thoughtfully. “My bride is out there,” he said. “Would you sing it for her?”
So I sang it that night, and the following nights. Each time it was well received, and each time I was amazed that something so particular had such a broad appeal. Is this what you wanted, Lord? I asked. Did you mean the song for everyone?
Less than a year after Peter’s wedding, the trio took a leave of absence from performing and we each created solo albums. By then I knew that “Wedding Song” would be included on mine, but now I had a dilemma on my hands. How could I honestly copyright the song in my name? Yet if I didn’t claim the song for someone, the record company would pocket the royalties.
In the end I set up a foundation to oversee the publishing rights and to receive all my income as composer. Any money the song earned could then be distributed to worthy causes.
To my amazement, shortly after the album’s debut, “Wedding Song” was released as a single and almost immediately went into the Top 30.
Every year I turn down requests to sing “Wedding Song” at services around the country. “It’s not my song,” I can honestly say. It belongs to every bride and groom who ever had a good friend strum a guitar and sing at their wedding.
God gave me a song. It was mine to give away.
Over the years many artists have recorded Stookey’s song. This track from a 1976 album seemed perfect for The Captain and Tennille.
Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille got married in 1974 and divorced nearly 40 years later in 2014. Tennille wrote a memoir claiming the marriage suffered from lack of intimacy.
“It was never tender, it was never emotional, it was never a joining of two hearts. Sex is not love. That’s why I eventually said, ‘To heck with this’ ” Tennille said in an interview.
Dragon died of renal failure January 2, 2019 at a hospice in Prescott, Arizona, with Tennille by his side. He was 76.