The Religious Affiliation of Rock and Roll Pioneer
Jerry Lee Lewis
From: David W. Cloud, "1950s Rock -- Creating a Revolution", distributed by Way of Life Literature's Fundamental Baptist Information Service, copyright 2001 (http://www.wayoflife.org/fbns/1950srock.htm; viewed 19 July 2005):
Jerry Lee Lewis (1935- ) is not only one of the fathers of rock & roll, but is also one of rock's many wild men. His mother was a member of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God denomination, and like his preacher cousin, Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Lee attended AOG [Assemblies of God] churches frequently as he grew up. Jerry Lee, though, did not repent of his sin, trust Jesus Christ for salvation, and dedicate his life to the Lord. Instead he went out into the world and served the flesh and the Devil. Jerry Lee's father was a moonshiner, who had been in prison for making homemade liquor before Jerry Lee was born. Though his mother (sometimes accompanied by her husband) was a frequent churchgoer and is described by her children as serious about the things of God, the home was not happy, and his parents fought constantly. Jerry's mother began drinking as she got older, and she was known to get into violent confrontations (Linda Gail Lewis, The Devil, Me, and Jerry Lee, p. 53). By age 15, Jerry Lee was working at a juke joint and had acquired a taste for liquor. He quit high school after bringing home 29 F's on one report card. He then enrolled at Southwestern Bible Institute (Assemblies of God) in Waxahachie, Texas, and even preached a little; but was expelled after only three months when he played a boogie-woogie version of the hymn "My God Is Real" for morning assembly. He wasn't too sad at being kicked out of Bible school, because he had been sneaking out of the dorm at night and hitchhiking to Dallas to visit nightclubs. Now he was free to pursue his real love.
...The teenage Jerry Lee Lewis became proficient on the piano and formed his own rock & roll style from a combination of jazzed up Pentecostal music, hillbilly boogie, and black rhythm & blues. Lewis's biographer Nick Tosches observes that "if you took the words away, there were more than a few Pentecostal hymns that would not sound foreign coming from the nickel machine in the wildest juke joint" (Hellfire, p. 57).
At age 22 he vaulted to fame with his 1957 hit, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On." He became immensely popular with his frenzied rock & roll shows. His skyrocketing career was cut down, though, when the press learned that he had married his 13-year-old cousin before he divorced his second wife. He did not have more hit records until the late 1960s.
Jerry Lee Lewis has been a drug- and alcohol abusing, profane, immoral "party animal," and his life has been marred by violence, tragedies, and by repeated run-ins with the law. At last count he had been married seven times. In February 1952, when he was only 16, he married a girl named Dorothy, a preacher's daughter, but he would not stay home with her and she left him in early 1953. That summer he met 17-year-old Jane Mitcham and she was soon pregnant with his child out of wedlock. Her irate father and brothers forced him to marry her, and the marriage was registered on September 10, 1953. The 17-year-old Jerry Lee was a bigamist, because he was still legally married to Dorothy.
...The 1970s did not bring any peace to Jerry Lee Lewis. Myra [his wife] filed for divorce in 1970. She testified in court that their marriage had been a nightmare. Not only had she caught him cheating on her, but he also cuffed her around and in 13 years of marriage had spent only three evenings alone with her. He had accused her of adultery, beat her, and even implied that their son's drowning death was a punishment for her sins. That year Jerry Lee tried religion briefly, went back to church, and vowed to stop playing in nightclubs; but his newfound spirituality didn't last.
...Jerry Lee Lewis is what the Bible calls a "double minded man" (James 1:8; 4:8). He is frequently remorseful about his wicked lifestyle, but he does not repent and turn away from it. His sister Linda Gail testifies: "Jerry Lee would go through periods of depression and then back to his religious roots. Many times, he'd go home to the church in Ferriday, confess his sins to the world, repent and start all over again by the end of the week--drinking, running around and all the other activities associated with his sinful life on the road" (The Devil, Me, and Jerry Lee, p. 73). He has often admitted that rock & roll is "the devil's music." When he was recording one of his lewd songs at Sun Records in Memphis in 1957, the 20-year-old Lewis argued with Sun Records' owner Sam Phillips about whether or not rock & roll was wholesome. The discussion was recorded. As the session began, Lewis protested that rock is "worldly music" and that God requires separation from the world. Phillips argued with him that rock & roll is arousing good feelings and is therefore a good thing. In fact, he said that rock could even save people. Lewis vehemently replied: "How can the Devil save souls? What are you talkin' about? I have the Devil in me. If I didn't, I'd be a Christian" (Hungry for Heaven, p. 24). In 1970, Lewis told Rolling Stone magazine: "I was raised a good Christian, but I couldn't make it. Too weak I guess." In 1980, he told People magazine: "Salvation bears down on me. I don't wanna die and go to hell. But I don't think I'm heading in the right direction. ... I'm lost and undone, without God or son. I should've been a Christian, but I was too weak for the gospel. I'm a rock 'n' roll cat. We all have to answer to God on Judgment Day."
...Jerry Lee Lewis was, appropriately enough, the first person inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Webpage created 19 July 2005. Last modified 19 July 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: firstname.lastname@example.org.