Expertly blending lively congregational singing with powerful preaching, the Reverend F.W. McGee was among the most popular country gospel performers of the pre-Depression era. Born Ford Washington McGee in Winchester, Tennessee on October 5, 1890, he was raised primarily in Hillsboro, Texas; married at the age of 20, within a year he began a career as a teacher, soon after relocating to Oklahoma. Previously a pastor in a Methodist church, McGee converted to Charles H. Mason's Memphis-based Church of God in Christ in 1918, in part attracted to their more energetic singing style. By 1920 he had largely abandoned teaching to pursue preaching full-time, and through his revival meetings became a crucial figure in the GOGIC's encroachment into Kansas and Iowa. He later built a congregation in Oklahoma City with the assistance of the noted sanctified singer/pianist Arizona Dranes; by 1925, McGee had also established the first of two tents in the Chicago area.
When Dranes made her first recordings for OKeh in 1926, she recruited McGee and his Jubilee Singers to back her up; in early 1927, he made his headlining debut -- albeit mistakenly labeled "Rev. F.N. McGee" -- with "Lion of the Tribe of Judah." He next appeared on Victor a few months later, recording four more titles; among them were "Jonah in the Belly of the Whale" and "With His Stripes We Are Healed," which coupled together on a 78 reportedly sold over 100,000 copies. Another Victor session followed before the end of year, yielding the hit "Babylon Is Falling Down"; McGee's popularity as a recording artist also greatly increased the size of his congregation, and by 1928 he had outgrown his tents and built his own Chicago church. His later recording sessions focused primarily on preaching, with musical backing almost incidental; a July 16, 1930 New York City studio date was McGee's last, although he remained active in the GOGIC throughout the decades to follow. He died in 1971. ~ Jason Ankeny