Remembering Carlton R. ‘Sam’ Young

Professor Emeritus of Church Music Carlton R. ‘Sam’ Young died on May 21 at age 97. Associate Dean Emerita of Worship and Music and Associate Professor Emerita in the Practice of Liturgy and Music Barbara Day Miller shares this remembrance.

Candler School of Theology Remembering Sam Young


Barbara Day Miller
June 16, 2023
Candler School of Theology Sam Young Headshot

Young during his Candler years. Photo courtesy of the Candler Archives.

Carlton Raymond “Sam” Young (b. 1926) died peacefully in Nashville on May 21. Sam was a consummate composer, editor, and teacher whose curiosity and collaborative methods challenged and encouraged his students during appointments at three Methodist institutions in the U.S. (Candler, Perkins School of Theology, and Scarritt College) as well as universities in Taiwan, Singapore, China, Zimbabwe, and Russia. He was the editor of two hymnals for The Methodist/United Methodist Church, numerous hymn and song collections and music for the global church, and composer of hymn tunes found in multiple denominational hymnals.

Sam’s tenure at Candler as Professor of Church Music and Director of Music at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church (1978-1985) saw the building of Cannon Chapel and attendant negotiations with architect Paul Rudolph and organ builder Chick Holtkamp. For the final service of the dedicatory year of the Chapel in 1982, Sam commissioned hymn arrangements and a eucharistic setting by British composer John Rutter.

I experienced Sam as both his student and his colleague. His participatory and dialogical style of teaching were coupled with his high expectations, musically and academically—a clearly marked and cleanly conducted score, a precisely foot-noted paper. Generous with his time and encouragement, he invited me to sit in on meetings of the Hymnal Revision Committee and later the Global Praise Working Group, introducing me to conversation partners from around the world.

“In diction and in deed, Sam strove to find the exact word and the perfect note to make them reach up and seize meaning until it could speak to everyone.”

Professor Emeritus of Historical and Philosophical Theology David Pacini recalls, “In diction and in deed, Sam strove to find the exact word and the perfect note to make them reach up and seize meaning until it could speak to everyone. Tireless in his pursuit of this aspiration, Sam extended the reach of his citizenship beyond the School of Theology to include the larger university, where he embraced Emory’s year-long symposium, ‘Re-thinking Human Rights’ (1982-83). We co-authored a ‘Human Rights Magnificat’ that inaugurated the culminating week of that symposium in Cannon Chapel.”

Don Saliers, William R. Cannon Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theology and Worship, notes, “One of the great joys of my life has been to collaborate with Sam Young over many years, at Candler, as well as before and after. From the brand-new Methodist rite for Holy Communion (1972) in Bucannon, West Virginia, to our musical setting in Grace Episcopal in San Francisco in 2005, music and liturgy were always accompanied by theological wit. From Rutter and Shaw in Cannon Chapel to sharing his life reflections in these later years, I learned so much from him. Among other things, we shared a home state (Ohio) and a jazz/classical background. His settings of wonderful hymn texts by Shirley Erena Murray and so many others continue to feed my soul, and the church’s song. Lyrical theology, indeed—that was among his many contributions. Sam Young was one-of-a-kind.”

Other highlights of Sam’s Candler years included a collaboration with Robert Shaw, conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, in a performance at Glenn Church of J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion with the Georgia State University choir, the Glenn choir, the Candler Choraliers, and members of the Atlanta Symphony; and a close association with Wendell Whalum, esteemed director of the Morehouse Glee Club. At Sam’s invitation, the Glee Club gave a concert in Cannon Chapel, a first for this cross-town collaboration.

Sam left Candler to edit The United Methodist Hymnal in 1989, but in his retirement he returned several times: to teach short-term courses on hymnody and congregational song; to compose a hymn, “How Privileged We Are Who Worship in this Place,” with text by British Methodist hymnwriter Fred Pratt Green (whose papers, thanks to Sam, are in Pitts Theology Library) for the 20th anniversary of Cannon Chapel in 2001; to give the keynote address and direct a hymn festival for “The Singing Church” in 2012; and to compose hymn arrangements for the festival worship service during Candler’s Centennial in 2014. In 2003, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Emory University.

I had the privilege of serving as editor of Sam’s 2022 memoir, I’ll Sing On: My First 96 Years (GIA Publications), which includes a foreword by Don Saliers. Sam was my teacher, mentor, and friend from whom I continued to learn for more than forty years. His respect for people and opinions, his curiosity and interest in the world continued until his final days.


Top photo: Mike DuBose, UM News