Area folks were saddened recently to hear about the passing of Knoxville’s blind gospel music icon, J. Bazzel Mull (1914-2006).
About 1957, I routinely tuned my radio to the “Mull Singing convention of the Air” over WLAC in Nashville. The program regularly featured my favorite gospel group, the Chuck Wagon Gang. Preacher Mull, a grandson of circuit-riding preacher, Wallace B. Mull, opened his program with these memorable words, spoken in his distinctively gravely voice: “Howdy neighbor. This is your old friend J. Bazzel Mull,” to which his wife, Elizabeth, would reply “and Mrs. Mull.”
Mull would often say something over the air and solicit confirmation from his wife by asking her, “Ain’t that right, Lady Mull?” Her response was always, “That’s right.” Pastor Mull’s signature signoff to conclude his program was “Thanks for your time, at this time, until next time.” Mull’s blindness resulted from a fall into an open fireplace at age 11. Lady Mull assisted her husband in the studio by announcing song selections and cueing records.
The preacher’s affiliation with Johnson City began in early 1940 when he came here to conduct a revival at a Baptist church in the vicinity of Fall Street. The evangelist and his younger brother, Romulus, a talented singer, guitar player and pianist, soon took up residence in the city, moving from Burke County, NC.
The Elbert and Gladys Bowman family became acquainted with the Mull brothers after inviting them to have supper with them at their E. Unaka home. Mull then extended an invitation to the three oldest Bowman brothers – Weldon, Jake and Buddy, all accomplished vocalists – to sing at his evangelistic meetings.
Weldon recalled his joyful association with the famed preacher: “I was only about 18 years old when the three of us began singing at his gospel music crusades. I often became his ‘eyes’ by reading the Bible to him. He amazed me with how much scripture he could remember. He later gave me a Bible for assisting him in his ministry. I kept in touch with Pastor Mull over the years, usually calling him on his birthday and during the Christmas holidays. He did so much good for people during his lifetime.”
By about 1941, Mull moved to Knoxville where his ministry was aided by successful grocer and politician, Cas Walker. Romulus joined the Air Force and died in a prisoner of war camp in 1944. During his lifetime, Mull owned four Tennessee radio stations and was heard over numerous radio and TV facilities. During one radio broadcast, some pranksters rigged the studio sound system to trick Mull into believing that a popular song being heard in the booth was accidentally being broadcast over the air.
The Reverend organized several churches in North Carolina and Tennessee, including being pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church in the Boones Creek community for a few months in 1947.
Today, the Bowman Family’s four younger brothers – Jim, Ray, Tony and Robert – occasionally dress up and perform a hilarious “musicomedy” imitation of the Mulls, followed by their robust singing of the Chuck Wagon Gang’s “Higher We Climb Every Day.”
On behalf of all East Tennesseans, let me offer heartfelt thanks to our old friends … “J. Bazzel Mull” … “and Mrs. Mull” … for your time, at this time, until next time. And thats right, Lady Mull”