By Stan Williams, Pastor
First Baptist Church of Cannonsburg, KY
Buell Kazee was born in Magoffin County Kentucky at the head of a little creek called Burton Fork, on August 29, 1900 in a two-room log cabin. Burton Fork is an isolated region of Eastern Kentucky nestled in the Cumberland Mountains about four miles from Salyersville. "Brother Kazee," as he was called by most everyone, was the son of Frank and Abigail Conley Kazee, people of faith, who raised their children in the "fear and admonition of the Lord." The Kazee family attended the Mash Fork Baptist Church where young Buell learned to sing the sacred hymns with a "high lonesome" mountain flavor.
The Singer/Banjo Picker
The Kazee family was a close knit, singing family. In the days before television the fireplace was the "cement" that held families together because that was where the family would gather in the evenings for conversation, music, bean-stringings and similar activities. There was always a banjo and fiddle close by. During a visit to Aunt Sade's house across the hills, five year-old Buell discovered an old, home-made banjo. The neck of the instrument was a whittled piece of walnut, the hoop was made from split white oak, and a home-tanned cat skin hide was stretched over the hoop and fastened with carpet tacks. Aunt Sade gave the banjo to young Buell who learned the claw-hammer style of picking by watching the other pickers and imitating them. This was the beginning of a hobby which included recordings, performances, and lectures.
In 1926, W. S. Carter, the proprietor of Carter's Phonograph Shop in Ashland, Kentucky (who was also a representative of Brunswick-Balke-Collender Recording Company) heard Buell sing. Soon afterwards Buell was in New York City cutting his first 78 rpm record. By the time the Great Depression hit in 1929, he had cut 52 recordings on the Brunswick and Vocalion labels. Most of the recordings were the folk songs and ballads of the Appalachian Mountain area, with "The Little Mohee" and "The Roving Cowboy" becoming two of his best sellers. In the 1960s wih the revival of folk music in America, Buell accepted invitations to perform at the Newport Folk Festival, the University of Kentucky, and Berea College. He also performed in many other cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington, D. C., Vancouver, B.C. and Toronto.
At a young age Buell Kazee made a profession of faith in Christ as his Savior and subsequently felt called to preach at age fifteen. In time, he would be licensed to preach before his eighteenth birthday and was ordained to the gospel ministry by the Mash Fork Baptist Church. He graduated from Magoffin Baptist Institute at Salyersville in 1920. In the Fall semester of 1921 he entered Georgetown College and graduated in 1925 with a major in English and a minor in Ancient Languages (Greek and Latin). For a brief time he was the Minister of Music and Education for a large church in Oklahoma, before returning to Kentucky where he served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Morehead for 22 years. Afterwards, he served as pastor of Devondale Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky for 12 years. He also taught at the Lexington Baptist College. "Brother Kazee" was an author as well as a preacher. Among his published works are: Faith is the Victory (Eerdmans, 1951), and The Church and the Ordinances (The Little Baptist Press, 1965), as well as many sermons and tracts.
Brother Kazee's theology was Calvinistic, which he summed up in a sermon entitled, Thoughts on the Doctrine of Election, where he wrote, "Election is according to the foreknowledge of God (I Peter 1:2), and wholly of grace, apart from human merit (Romans 9:11; 11:5-6). Election proceeds from the divine volition (John 15:16). . . . Election is not "Hard-shellism" . . . election takes in the means (gospel) by which the elect are called (II Thessalonians 2:13-14)."
Buell Kazee died on August 31, 1976 of a heart attack in Winchester, Kentucky. The funeral service was held on September 3, at Mash Fork Baptist Church and conducted by Rev. Burton Callico. Buell Kazee was laid to rest in the family cemetery at Mash Fork.
Although singing and performing mountain music was an important part of his life, to Buell Kazee it was always considered just a hobby. His first love was "preaching and teaching the Bible, holding meetings and Bible conferences, and pastoring. . . . " He was not distracted nor tempted to compromise the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, but remained a faithful servant until the end of his days.
[From Kentucky Baptist Heritage, Newsletter of the Kentucky Baptist Archives Advisory Board; Bill D. Whittaker, editor, May 4, 2004. Document provided by Ben Stratton, Hickman, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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