Death of Isaiah Jones, Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Isaiah Jones, Jr. was my father-in-law and one of the deans of gospel music as we know it. I’m not sure how many songs he wrote in all, but the most famous one is “God Has Smiled On Me.” It’s not quite as popular as “Jingle Bells” or “Hotel California,” but in many Protestant circles, it’s one of those songs that you just picked up along the way without ever seeing the words on paper. It transcends denomenation and generation.

I was with Isis and the baby at a Presbyterian church in the Bronx last Sunday, the day he passed. During the service (before we got the news), what song do they strike up during the service? “God has smiled on me, he has set me free….” Isis called her father to let him hear the church singing it–left it on his voice mail. She figured he would enjoy that, since he had been in and out of the hospital over the last couple of weeks. When we left the church, she called him. An aunt answered and broke her the news. A day and a half later, she was on a plane to LA. I’ll be out there Saturday, the funeral is Monday.

The funeral is going to be a pretty major affair. Dad was one of those people who knew all the movers and shakers, but never quite made it into the limelight himself. Sure, he traveled the world, got his share of honors and awards including a Grammy nod, but his name is not as familiar, even to gospel music fans.  Still, all of those “big name” people certainly worked with, learned from, knew, loved, and admired him. At 68, he was one of the elder statesmen of gospel music; those who have come after and thrived owe him a debt of gratitude for helping pave the way.

What I’m going to miss most is just talking to him. There really aren’t that many black men who have been to seminary, hold inclusive views, and have the time to just chat it up. He certainly knew the Bible, yet we were able to put the Bible down and talk about our real experiences as well. We used to relate it to the law of attraction, telepathy, healing, yoga, astral projection, and other aspects of spirituality Christians generally don’t want to deal with.  Among other things, he gave me a whole lot of books, including several volumes of Bible commentaries, which gave my book shelf some serious credibility. It was always respectable, but thanks to those tomes, it looks like a legitimate preacher’s library.

He had a way of being used by God. Just one example was his being present for the birth of our son, his only grandchild. The baby was due on Sept. 29. He really wanted to be there for the delivery, but had some conflict. So he booked his ticket for Oct. 8th and just planned to spend a few days with us. The baby came late, so Dad ended up being right in the delivery room with me and Isis, which is what he wanted. Things always had a way of working out like that for him.

And now, as much as it hurts, he’s dead. Right now, 2 things are getting me through. One, it hasn’t really sunk in for me. Once I fly across the country and those family members meet me at the airport, it will sink in. Second, I really do know that he is all right. For me, the pain of separation is (sometimes) lessened by the knowledge that Dad still exists in the spiritual form. All the little insecurities and secrets and grudges and regrets that are a part of this earthly life, they are no more for him. Maybe he was greeted on the other side by his parents and brother who proceeded him in death. Most importantly, I think he would want us to know that God is still smiling on him as well as each of us.


31 responses to “Death of Isaiah Jones, Jr.

  1. Thanks for giving those of us in Palo Alto who have missed his presence since he moved to LA but were still in the circle of his love this wonderful understanding of his parting. We are all living and humming, “Go with God.”

  2. Seth:
    I served with Isaiah in campus ministry at Oregon State University. I just learned last night (Tuesday) of Isaiah’s death. I appreciate and second your words about the amazing ways in which God was present in and through Isaiah – touching thousands, tens of thousands I am sure. I sang with his gospel choir here in Corvallis, OR and, today, I turned to one of his songs (that he partnered with Harry Cooper, Jr. on) “On The Other Side of Through”. I trust that Isaiah is smiling on us from “the other side. We will be gathering the remnant of our gospel choir together and are planning a local memorial service for Sunday, October 19, where we will share in celebrating and remembering Isaiah and his gifts through song. Again, thank you for your reflections on this amazing man.

  3. I met Rev Dr. Jones many years ago, in the 80s, and he had a very profound impact on quite a few of us. He always made himself available for whenever you needed him, whether it be for a workshop or a service. When he saw you again, he always made you feel as if you were his long lost friend that he was so happy to see. Right now the suffering and pain is over, and he is present with the Lord. We will mourn with his family, as his physical presence is missing, but if we endure as he did, we will be rejoicing in heaven with him as part of that heavenly choir.

  4. I was a member of his group God’s Chosen. I knew your wife and her sister when they were tiny girls themselves. My son just called and gave me the bad news. He is one that I will miss dearly. Keep your heads up and a smile on your face….

    One of his favorite sayings to us ( GOD’S CHOSEN) was “SPREAD LOVE”

    did for God,… for he knew that ONLY WHAT YOU DO FOR GOD WILL

    Love him always!

  6. I met Isaiah at seminary while he was working on his D.Min. and then had the priviledge of serving with him in San Jose Presbytery. His faith, his strength, his joy in serving the Lord touched my heart and helped shape me into the pastor I have become. His willingness to give of himself showed how Christ’s love lived in him, whether in the presence of well known and powerful people or working with a small mostly white rural church to spread the Good News of that inclusive love. We miss him and will remember him this morning in our service.

  7. I have been privileged to know Isaiah since he came to be our pastor at Covenant Presbyterian in Palo Alto, CA. He taught me about the power of prayer, about trusting in God’s plan for our lives, and about being led by love. I will miss him but I am sure that he is now smiling down on us too, and his legacy will live on in all the lives he touched with his songs, his presence (and his thank you notes!). Love and comfort to his family-

  8. Iasiah became a part of my family’s life when my then girlfriend went to a funeral at Covenant Presbyterian church in Palo Alto and Pastor Iasiah was leading the memorial service. She called me after the service and told me she had found the man who would marry us – and he did! He met with us several times before we were married and we had the opportunity to get to know him better. We are also blessed that the Covenant church and Pastor Iasiah baptized both of our children. Having brought my wife and I together in marriage, and baptizing our sons, Iasiah is, and always will be, an important part of our family that we will never forget. His life, his passion for music, his love of God and of life itself are an inspiration for all who knew him. Although we’re deeply saddened to hear this news, we also feel very blessed to have known Iasiah and to have him be part of our life.

  9. Isaiah was my spiritual and musical mentor. I sang with him for years in The Inner Strength Gospel Choir in Corvallis. When Isaiah left us for Palo Alto, he made me promise him that I’d do everything I could to “keep Inner Strength together.” We’re only four singers and a bass player now, and we changed the name to The Inner Strength Gospel Singers, but we’ve kept on singing with the spirit that Isaiah put into us! Give a love hug, everyone!

  10. The network of friends of Rev. Dr. Isaiah Jones alive with the message of love, warm memories and a deep sadness for our loss. I know that Isaiah was ready for his latest “journey” to the “other side of through” as he was a reminder to “be prepared” for this journey, knowing that “God Has Smiled …” on him. His music has helped many of us to prepare for our own journey through this life!
    I, too, had the joyous, and preciously-appreciated, opportunity to sing with Isaiah and the Inner Strength Gospel Choir at the Oregon State University in Corvallis. No matter what personal challenge may have been on our mind at the start of our rehearsals and programs, Isaiah, through his music, and with that broad, love-filled smile, would help lift us up above the stresses to a higher place of gratitude and love of life. He embraced ALL peoples, getting even the “Frozen Chosen” in the audiences to get on board and sing out in the joy of life. The signature phrase “Give a Love Hug” at the conclusion of programs has been a continual reminder of the shared peace and joy brought to us through Dr. Jones.
    The stories of Isaiah and his love of life and music will be held in a sacred space in the hearts of many people… and for a few of us, that special place includes on a music CD of his, “Forgiven” on which we had the honor to sing as background vocalists. We miss you, Isaiah!

  11. Isaiah was a true gift from God. He inspired us to complete our first project as a songwriter. His love will continue to live on forever!

  12. My sympahty goes to the family as we morn the loss of a man who loves music and also loves his Lord by following his commandment Love God and love others as yourself. I was blessed to be part of the choir at Corvallis from the start to the end and I am greatful to know his and to also to hear his sermons at first presbyterian at corvallis which was an inspiration and also a blessing of his voice. May we all continue to do one thing that we admire about him as we continue our journey here on earth. shalom, Peace, paz paix

  13. My deepest condolences. I know it is very late, but i need to share my story with you. My name is Vernatt and i am from Cape Town, South Africa. I was privileged to visit the USA in 1989 when i was still a student at university learning to become a teacher. I was send by my student minister to attend a national and international youth conference of the First Presbyterian Church held at Purdue University in Indianapolis. At this conference i met Dr Jones and was inspired by this man of God. Fighting apartheid in our country that time, i was motivated by him to go back and do my part to end this evil. I was so touch by this man of God, that i did go back, play my part through difficult times. He gave me a cassette with the song ” God has smiled on me ” on it. I was started teaching the next year and was fortunate to became choir master and it was logic that they did the song….God has smiled on me…. Being in jail for my believes…it was the same song that inspired me. We only got access to the internet not long ago…and i search for him…..just know…..thousands of miles ago is a young politician…becoming mayor of our town the 25 of January….who’s life was touch by this great man of God….. my deepest sympathy…..i hope that you can share it with his loved ones…..God bless…

  14. I am Isaiah’s only sister. It’s been almost 2 years and I miss him terribly. My husband Marcus struggled because of the loss of Isaiah. We loved him dearly, and we know for sure that he loved us too. He was not only family but a dear, dear friend. He impacted our lives tremendously! He was a real “brother” in the deepest sense of the word. His legacy surrounds us daily. Sometimes I see men on the street that reminds me of Isaiah. We still laugh at the funny things we shared with Isaiah, and cry over the things that made us cry. He will never ever be forgotten. We will see him again one day as we reunite in heaven with God our Father and our blessed Lord and Saviour! We look so forward to that day, rejoicing in Christ Jesus til then! Amen!

  15. Hi,

    I only knew Isaiah from SFTS. I was a close friend of his wife Barbara, does anyone know what happened to her?

  16. I’d love to talk to Barbara Prowell (Jones). We were close until the marriage ended with Isaiah. Let me know.

  17. I didn’t know the marriage ended! What about her son Michael? Thank you Seth for checking for us.

  18. I just heard about Isaiah’s passing today. I sang in the choir at Forest Home Christian conference center in 1976-78 with Isaiah and loved his great songs and spirit. He was a great inspiration to me. Long of the short of this story, I am now full time in Christian ministry along with a TV show on TBN with a family / kid’s show called “Mary Rice Hopkins & Puppets with a heart.” We are on every Saturday morning teaching good character & Biblical principles through music and puppetry. I am thankful for people like Isaiah who have paved the way and I am sure God is smiling upon him even more as he sits with the Father. Thanks,
    Mary Rice Hopkins

  19. Its almost 4 years and many of our conversations seem like yesterday. I miss my brother and song writing collaboraor. Writing with Isaiah gave me such confidence to explore lyrics in an unconventional way. I thank GOD for his friendship and big brotherness. My most enduring memory is being with Isaiah at the Dead Sea and he lost his contact lens in the sand. After looking in the sand for a few minutes I gave up, but Isaiah said i look a few more minutes, soon i heard the words I found it, look at GOD. Yes GOD can do anything. Thank you Seth for posting this and know the spirit of Isaiah JOnes, Jr. lives on. He was so proud of you and Isis. Keep the faith.

  20. So good to hear from you Pastor Cooper! My husband and I are traveling Evangelists. The Lord is doing great things, we are so blessed. Missing big brother Isaiah so-o-o much. Speak of him often. We’re in l.A. Once a year visiting David, Seth And Isis. Blessings to you

    Sent from my iPad

  21. I’ve just heard the news this week, and am saddened. I met Bro. Isaiah at a week long training at Camp Sugar Pine back in 1973. He was the kind of guy that was as uplifting as his music. Just as the group of us sang praises to God around the piano back in the day, I look forward to meeting again around the throne of grace. God bless.

  22. Thank you for your kind words. We loved Isaiah so much and still miss him terribly. He is forever in our hearts to cherish his memory and his music is with us forever. We too, look forward to our meeting around the throne! Can’t wait to see and rejoice with him again. Blessings to you now and always as you continue serving the Lord. Isaiah’s Sister, Reverend Lorretta Jones Kelley

  23. It is hard to believe it has been four years since Isaiah passed. I think of him every day. As I deal with my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, I think back to the service he lead in our church and then to the farewell service at Covenant Palo Alto. I try to explain to people that Isaiah is my inspiration to keep my faith strong so that I too can go out singing God Has Smiled On Me.

  24. My prayers are with you. Isaiah was committed to trusting and believing GOD for everything. I encourage you Bro. Ed in the same way. There is NOthing that GOD cannot do. Keep the faith, GOD is smiling on you.

  25. Amen Rev. Ed. Isaiah fought the good fight of faith! I’ll join Rev. Cooper in praying for you as well. Someone told Isaiah, “all sickness is not unto death”. I agree, and I’ve been quoting it in my sermons every since I heard it. God is good! We Praise Him in the midst of and inspite of our circumstances. He is to be glorified in our lives. Prayers and blessings flow toward you now! Rev. Lorretta Kelley, Isaiah’s sister!

  26. Thanks Seth. Do you know if his music is copywrited or who owns the rights to his music? I am a youth minister and have been putting together a youth devotional song book. I want to include “Come Fill My Cup” in my song book but legally I need permission.

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