Just One Rose: The Legacy of Big Lew

Published 5:14 pm Sunday, June 9, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By C.Y. Peters

In Elizabethton, there was a voice that became synonymous with both celebration and sorrow. James Lewis Garrison, known to all as “Big Lew”, was more than a singer; he was the melodic heart of the community. Born in August of 1933, Lew’s passion for music was evident from a young age. At just eight years old, his voice first resonated through the halls of vacation Bible school, marking the beginning of a lifetime dedicated to gospel music.

By the time Lew was 20, he had already achieved a remarkable feat by becoming the choir director at the First Freewill Baptist Church. His leadership and talent drew many to the church, where his voice lifted spirits and comforted souls. Over the years, Lew’s reputation as a tenor grew, and he joined various quartets, including the Atonement Quartet, the Melody Men Quartet, The Song Masters, and the Silvertones Quartet.

However, it was in 1958 that Big Lew truly left his mark on the gospel music scene. That year, he joined the Prophets, a professional group that would become one of the biggest names during the golden age of gospel music. Lew’s high tenor voice, one of the most remarkable of his time, became the defining sound of the Prophets. Their music spread far and wide, touching hearts and winning souls with every performance.

Among all the songs Big Lew sang, “Just One Rose Will Do” stood out as the most memorable. This song, with its simple yet profound message, resonated deeply with people. It became a staple at weddings and funerals alike, a testament to Lew’s ability to capture the full spectrum of human emotion in his performances. “Don’t spend your money for flowers, just one rose will do,” he sang, reminding everyone of the power of simplicity and genuine sentiment.

Big Lew’s contributions to gospel music did not go unrecognized. In 2003, he was awarded the Living Legend Award, a fitting tribute to a man whose voice had become a cherished part of so many lives. His induction into the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2015 further solidified his legacy as one of the greats in gospel music.

Tragically, Big Lew passed away on August 1, 1994, just one day after his 61st birthday. His death left a void in the community, but his music continued to inspire and comfort. At his funeral, a recording of him singing “Just One Rose Will Do” played, bringing tears to the eyes of those in attendance. In a poignant tribute, every person held a single rose in their hand, honoring his memory and the song that had touched so many lives.

James Lewis Garrison, Big Lew, may have left this world, but his voice still echoes in the hearts of those who heard him. He reminded everyone that in life and death, it is the simple, heartfelt gestures that hold the most meaning. Just one rose was enough to honor his extraordinary life, a life that proved the power of music to unite, heal, and transcend the passage of time.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox