CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Two-time Dove Award-winning gospel singing veteran Doug Oldham passed away in the early morning hours of July 21 at a Charlottesville, Va., hospital. According to one of his daughters, he had been in ICU for ten days awaiting surgery after breaking his back in a fall.
"The pain he dealt with wore him down," said Karen Oldham Offenbacker about her father. His heart stopped just hours before surgery was to begin.
Offenbacker said her father rallied around to consciousness last Saturday "to talk with us a bit, and to say his goodbyes. He knew the surgery was fifty-fifty that he'd make it."
Oldham had been in declining health in recent years. Born in Indiana on Nov. 30, 1930, he was 79 years old.
With a music career that spanned more than 60 years, Oldham may have been best known for his weekly appearances with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell on The Old Time Gospel Hour television program that began in the early '70s and continued much of his career.
Falwell once wrote, "He has sung for presidents and royalty. Doug Oldham is as fine a singer as there is and he is a master communicator. But the important thing to me is that he has remained true to his Lord and his calling."
Oldham began singing in the early '60s at tent revival meetings where his father preached. He soon met a young songwriter named Bill Gaither and they began to travel on weekends with Gaither playing the piano and Oldham singing the songs Gaither and his wife Gloria were writing.
"Doug was one of the first professional singers to ever sing our songs and – in reality – he took our songs to the world," wrote Gaither on gaither.com hours after learning of Oldham's death. "He was the first person ever to sing 'He Touched Me' the week after I wrote it. Shortly after he debuted the song publicly, he became the first artist ever to record it."
That song became one of Gaither's most famous songs, recorded by scores of artists, including Elvis Presley, and included in many modern hymnbooks.
Gaither acknowledged that Oldham was not only a great singer, but also a compelling communicator. "Doug's resonant voice and vibrant spirit moved people at a very personal level. He possessed that rare balance between polished professionalism and authenticity, and the world couldn't help but respond," wrote Gaither.
In 2006, Oldham was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
In a 2007 interview with the Liberty Journal, Gaither said, "Not all awards are historic, but I think that particular one was because of the major contribution he made. It was a very deserving moment."
Gaither called his friend a "unique communicator, with a great heart."
"People liked him because he sang with such feeling," Gaither told the Liberty Journal. "His spirit in spite of his bad health is amazing to me. The optimism I hear in his voice in spite of the fact I know he has endured a lot of pain with his back is amazing."
Over the course of his six-decade career, Oldham recorded 66 albums and performed for former presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush, Sr.
Oldham was known around the world, with fans from Canada to Holland, where he was at one time No. 1 in gospel music, to all across England, where he sang for the queen.
In 2007, Liberty University named a recital hall after him and set up a scholarship fund in his honor at the Center for Worship.
Doug is survived by his wife of 58 years, Laura Lee, three daughters, three sons-in-law, five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Visitation will be held on Sunday evening, July 25, at 7:00 p.m. at Pate Chapel, which is located on the campus of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Oldham's hometown of Lynchburg, Va. The funeral service honoring Doug's life will be held on Monday, July 26, at 3:00 p.m. at Thomas Road Baptist Church. Jonathan Falwell, who succeeded his father as pastor of Thomas Road in 2007, will officiate the service.
According to the family, Oldham will be buried in a private service on the Liberty University campus by the white prayer chapel near former circuit riding preacher B.R. Lakin.
In lieu of flowers, gifts may be directed to the Doug Oldham Scholarship Fund:
Oldham Concert Hall – Scholarship Fund
Attention: J.W. Hugo
1971 University Boulevard, Lynchburg, Virginia 24502
Many of Oldham's original recordings have been digitally remastered and are available on CD at http://www.dougoldham.com.
Also see Christian Examiner blog: Doug Oldham passes away; Singer left his touch on my life