Ray Hildebrand, an Overland Park resident and pioneer of contemporary Christian music, died on Friday. The 82-year-old moved to the Kansas City area to work for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and many people remember him from attending FCA summer camps.
Hildebrand is best known for writing and singing the hit song “Hey Paula” in 1963. He and partner Jill Jackson adopted Paul and Paula as their stage names. The two met at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas. The song reached No. 1 on the music charts and has sold more than three million copies. The song spent the entire month of February 1963 at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Hildebrand and Jackson began touring with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars.
Hildebrand was one of the first musicians to perform contemporary Christian music, with such memorable songs as “He’s Everything to Me” and “Say I Do.” A recording of “Say I Do” by Ray Price reached the top of the country music charts. In the 1980s, he and local musician Paul Land teamed up to perform music and comedy as Land & Hildebrand.
Hildebrand also wrote the first of eight FCA Camp theme songs in 1967 — “Courage To Conquer,” matching the camp’s theme taken from Romans 8:37. Later he wrote additional camp songs including “The Life That Wins” (1968), “A Special Kind of Man” (1972) and “We Really Do Need Each Other” (1975). According to FCA, He wrote numerous other familiar FCA songs including “Say I Do” and “Turn It Over To Jesus.”
Hildebrand explained on his website why he left a promising pop music career to pursue a music ministry.
“I was tired of chasing around the world after something that I wasn’t even sure I wanted,” he said. “I had recorded a hit album, but the royalties were slipping off. I couldn’t see devoting my life to dirty jokes and nightclubs. What for? That’s when I started reading the Bible again. I had been raised in a Christian family, but I had never really asked the real questions about my faith. That’s when I realized the good Lord was trying to teach me something.”
Hildebrand was preceded in death by his wife, Judy, and survived by a daughter, Heidi Sterling, and son, Mike Hildebrand. For more information about his life and music, visit www.rayhildebrand.com.
–Alan Goforth – Metro Voice