Matthew Ward and Annie Herring ‘Hear the Bells Ringing…’ For
Matthew Ward and Annie Herring ‘Hear the Bells Ringing…’ For A New Chapter in Their Lives
by Dan Wooding, ASSIST News
For millions around the world, The 2nd Chapter of Acts, were one of the most brilliant and talented family trios ever to come out of the Jesus Music Movement, later to be called Contemporary Christian Music.
Their tight and intricate harmonies on hits like Easter Song certainly brought much joy to the world.
The pioneering group was made up of sisters, Annie Herring and Nelly Greisen, and their brother Matthew Ward, whose ministry was in no small part forged from a personal family tragedy. In 1968 their mother, Elizabeth Ward, died of a brain tumor; and then two years later their father, Walter, died of leukemia leaving Matthew and his youngest sister, Nelly orphaned.
The Ward siblings all decided that Matthew’s older sister, Annie, and her new husband, record producer Buck Herring, should take them into their Southern California home, and the rest is Christian music history.
Matthew Ward was recently performing at the invitation of Ron Strand at the Upper Room, a Christian coffee house in Mission Viejo, California, and there to cheer him on was his talented sister, Annie Herring, and her husband, Buck Herring.
When I heard of this, I went along with my digital recorder to see if I could grab some time with the brother and sister for a rare interview. They agreed and soon I was learning more about their past, and their present, which, in Matthew’s case, was quite a surprise, as he is going into the medical profession.
I began by asking Matthew to share more about the family tragedy that eventually saw the launch of The 2nd Chapter of Acts.
“Yeah, my mom died when I was 10 years old and my dad passed away when I was 12,” he began. “So there were still four kids living — I’m the youngest of nine — and so we went to live with my sister Annie, who’s sitting next to me, and her husband Buck, and that’s kind of where the group started from.”
I asked Matthew how and when he began singing, and he said, “I don’t know how it all came about, but it was just natural — like a duck to water. It wasn’t something I thought about.”
Annie then joined in and, with a huge smile on her face, said, “When he was a kid, he used to sing with the vacuum cleaner and he would sing harmony with the washing machine. It didn’t matter how he came out of the shoot, but just began singing with his amazing voice.”
Annie went on to say, “Right after our mother had died, I had gone down to the river with Matthew, who was then about 10, and some other kids — I wasn’t a kid at that time — and Matthew suddenly started singing as we walked home, and his voice was so perfect.
“Later I would sing and he would just float all around me with all these wonderful harmonies and I thought, ‘This little guy is so good.’ Still, at that time, I had no idea God was going to say, ‘I’m going to call you guys to sing together and you will minister to people who are broken, who are lost, and I’m going to use you because you don’t think you could ever be used like that.’”
I wondered if Matthew had ever had any training as a singer, and he replied, “I never had any voice lessons per se. No, it just came naturally. I always thought that I’d be a drummer. I’d beat on pots and pans and things like that, and then somebody heard me sing and then my drum career was over.”
So how did the group evolve?
Annie fielded that question and said, “Well actually, after I gave my life to the Lord, He changed me and taught me how to play the piano and I would ‘receive’ songs from Him,” said Annie. “I was in that first year and a half of that, and the first year of our marriage, when Matthew and Nellie came to live with us.
“I would play piano and they would come home from school and I would tell them, ‘I’ve got a new song from the Lord today. Do you want to hear it?’ And they’d say they would and then they would come and sit down beside me and the amazing thing was, before I was done singing the song, they were already singing harmonies along with it.
“It was really a very traumatic time in our lives and yet God was healing us through that time with the three of us just being in that living room together and singing. I really believe that that’s when the Lord spoke into our hearts and into our voices to sing in that beautiful place of sweet authority from Him. It was just an anointing. We didn’t realize at the time that God was healing us so then we could go out and he could use our voices to heal others. It’s really been remarkable to watch.”
I then asked Matthew how the name, The 2nd Chapter of Acts, came about, and he explained, “Actually, the name was originally Annie’s husband, Buck’s idea. He was working at the studio at the time and he just heard in his heart the title, ‘The 2nd Chapter of Acts.’ When Buck came home from work, he said to us, ‘Hey, I think I know what the name of the group should be and when he told us and we felt that was just a horrible name. I said that it sounded like a play, like ‘The 2nd Chapter of Acts, Scene Two.’
“He told us that, before we dismissed it out of hand, we should all go to our separate rooms and read it for ourselves and then come back together again and see what we thought about what that chapter said. That was really a deciding factor for us because we kind of decided that if we were stuck on a deserted island somewhere, and all we had to read was that one chapter in the New Testament, it pretty much laid it all out. So we felt honored that if God wanted to call us by that name, than by golly, we’d jump on it and call ourselves The 2nd Chapter of Acts.”
Soon the trio was doing short gigs of three or four songs in coffee houses all around the Los Angeles area.
Annie recalled, “It would just be me at the piano, nervous and scared to death, and I’m sure Matthew and Nellie were nervous also. We didn’t know what we were doing, and we just sang really fast because we were so scared.
“We had a really good friend that lived with us at that time named Wally Duguid, and he would go out with us because Buck was usually working in the studio on those nights. Wally was an amazing man, a young genius. He had known the Lord for a while and he really encouraged us.”
But then Barry McGuire, who had the huge hit, Eve of Destruction, and had recently become a Christian, came into their lives, and this was the turning point for their career.
“We went out with Barry and also did backup for him and, in 1973, we worked on Seeds, his first Christian solo project,” said Matthew. “My brother-in-law produced it and so it was just a natural fit.”
I pointed out to them that Barry’s first backup group was the Mamas & the Papas, so they were in good company.
Soon they were travelling with McGuire and also sang, during his concerts, the few songs they so far had in their repertoire.
“Barry taught us how to communicate,” said Matthew. “I’m still scared today. I don’t know how people get on stage and sing. I’ve been doing it for 42 years now and it’s a mystery to me. Barry taught us a lot.”
Was it fun to work with Barry?
The delightful Annie Herring laughed and said, “I loved working with Barry and I love him. He delights every part of my soul. He’s just a lovely man. He would tell us, ‘You guys are going to have to talk when you are stage.’ At that time, we were so scared and he said, ‘You can’t just stand there and sing and play the piano. You have to talk.’ When we said that we didn’t know how to do that, he would reply, ‘Just be who you are because that’s the only thing that works. Don’t try to talk like somebody else, but be who you are.’
“I realized that what he was really saying was to let the Holy Spirit speak through us so that others can be touched and if we were honest before God, God would be honest with us.”
The trio released their debut album, With Footnotes, in 1974. This album featured Easter Song which would become a signature piece for the group and has been recorded by many other artists since. This was followed up with In the Volume of the Book in 1975, the year that also saw the release of a live album with Barry McGuire, To the Bride, which included “A band called David,” a group of musicians who provided the instrumental support from 1974 until 1988 for The 2nd Chapter of Acts on tour. Their first three releases were issued by Myrrh Records, and the group toured with McGuire intermittently for three years.
The group went on a touring hiatus in 1976 and Annie released her first solo record on the Sparrow Records label founded that year by the executive who had signed them to the Myrrh label, Billy Ray Hearn. For the summer of 1977, they were joined on an 18-city tour by the incredible guitarist, Phil Keaggy, and the result was the live triple album, How the West Was One. Their contract with Myrrh fulfilled, they moved as a group to Sparrow.
Their Sparrow debut, Mansion Builder (1978), was followed up with The Roar of Love (1980), a concept album inspired by C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Rejoice (1981), Singer Sower (1983), and Together Live (1983), with Michael and Stormie Omartian.
The 2nd Chapter of Acts then moved to their own Live Oak label with the release of Night Light in 1985, and their final recording of original material, Faraway Places in 1987.
Their voices can be heard among other Christian artists on two benefit singles in 1985. Do Something Now! credited to the CAUSE (Christian Artists United to Save the Earth,) on Sparrow Records to aid famine relief in Africa and Fight the Fight, Rescue the Unborn, which featured over 100 Christian artists, to benefit the Christian Pro-Life Movement, released on Live Oak.
The 2nd Chapter of Acts broadened their appeal with the release of Hymns and Hymns 2, reaching audiences with more traditional music. Hymns proved to be their best-selling release, receiving a Dove Award for “Best Praise and Worship Album of the Year” in 1987.
Except for two sabbatical years in 1976 and 1983, The 2nd Chapter of Acts continued to tour until 1988. Their final concert was in Houston, Texas on August 12th of that year.
The group also became very close with the late Keith Green, and Annie Herring revealed that it was she who wrote their biggest hit, Easter Song, although many people thought Green had penned it.
Matthew said, “We always love to hear that people talk about it as ‘that Keith Green song,’ but actually Keith Green wrote a verse to it later, but he didn’t write it – Annie did!”
However Annie had a slightly different take on how it came to be composed. “I would rather say that I ‘received’ it from the Lord. I don’t write songs, but I’m a ‘song receiver,’” she said.
So, I wondered, how did she “receive” this extraordinary song?
“It began on a Sunday morning when we were living in Hollywood, and I could hear the church bells ringing,” she said. “I knew that they were ringing to tell people that it’s time for church. So I began to think that they were also ringing to call people to come to know Jesus, and then the song came together. At first I thought it was a pretty terrible song. I even thought, ‘My gosh, this is so hokey.’
Annie then said that on one occasion, she was starting to play the song for Jimmy Owens, the great songwriter, and suddenly he told her, “That’s a 2nd Chapter of Acts song if I’ve ever heard one.”
She replied, “Well ok, fine,” adding, “Then bam, it took off.” Something that so many around the world were blessed by!
Sometime after the group finally split up, Matthew then received some devastating news.
“In January 1994, I was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer and at that point, I didn’t know if it’d spread or if it was just local,” he said. “So I underwent surgery and had chemotherapy. It was hard and I learned a lot about God and His character through it. I also learned a lot about what I didn’t know about God.”
“I always thought that God loved people in a collective sense, but I just had a really hard time actually envisioning the creator of all things, loving me personally,” Matthew explained. “And after going through that experience there were times that I could look back and I saw the hand of God.
“I was really fortunate as it had not metastasized anywhere in my body, so after a short round of chemo, and a lot of CAT scans, and follow up stuff for a couple of years, I was soon given a clean bill of health. Since that time, there have been regular checks and, so far, everything is looking good.”
As the time approached for Matthew to do a sound check before the sold-our concert, I asked him how long he had been doing solo concerts and he replied, “I had two or three solo albums come out while I was still in the group, and when were still singing together, I’d come out and open the second half with one of my new songs, and they’d just kind of let me do it, so I was already doing solo stuff for some years while the group was still together and then, I just continued after the group stopped.”
Matthew then revealed some really surprising news.
“I went to medical school this year and became what we call a CAN, which is Certified Nurse’s Aide and I just did my boards last Sunday and passed,” he smiled. “So that means that I can take care of people. I’m under a nurse’s license and basically I’m a medical detective. There are a lot of things you can do with a CNA. So I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with it.
“Most people take care of older people in retirement homes or they can do one-on-one home care. I haven’t decided yet, but I think I’m going to do post-surgical care. It’s a big change.”
Annie beamed and said, “I’m very proud of him.”
Then she revealed that she has “retired from the road” and is learning to play golf, but added that her real passion is what she calls “a new ministry that’s not public.”
She went on to say, “I have wonderful ministry with my piano in the morning, and I do a lot of spiritual warfare. I’m entering into that in a whole different way. I’m beating my piano to death and singing. I have seen a lot of stuff happen in the spiritual realm. I just want to encourage people to go ahead with the gift that’s in them — to allow themselves to find a place where no one else can bother you and come against the ‘powers of darkness’ because we are fighting and I want Jesus to return. I long for that with everything in my being, but I also know I have a job to do and I will never ever not do it.”
When I asked Annie to sum up her time with The 2nd Chapter of Acts, she said, “We were privileged and honored and astounded that God would choose us because we were so unlovely and so scared and so young. Matthew and Nellie were out on the road when they were 13 and 14 and that’s really young. But I think that God knew that there were many young people that were out there who were hurting and it was during that time when the ‘Jesus Movement’ was going on, that I believe God put us there so He could just wrap his arms around the broken and hold them and draw them into His presence.”
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