Originally Published February 17th, 2017
“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” -Billy Graham
It’s Sunday morning and there is a man named Billy standing at the front of the country church. A handkerchief is clutched in one hand white, while a bible lays open in the other. Circling the podium, he reads a passage from scripture. The words call out, rhythmically and assertive, forming the foundation of his message. Placing the bible down he walks toward the aisle. A steam engine, building cadence with every step. He calls out to the parishioners with an urgency in his voice. A plea. Wiping away sweat with one hand, he stomps the floor with a great cry. Turning from one pew to another, his tie and jacket fly about in the fiery rhetoric. The words reach higher, louder, echoing out among the churchgoers. You can feel the end of each sentence. Billy Fields is a Southern Baptist preacher and this is his craft.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou
Throughout my youth, Billy was always connected to my grandma’s church. I remember when he would take breaks from his traveling ministry to preach at our small storefront sanctuary. It was a big deal when Billy would preach. His music filled the rooms of the old store. His wife Peggy taught my Sunday school class. Many years later he would go on to become the lead pastor of Liberty Freewill Baptist Church in Wolcottville, Indiana. When he asked me to photograph the artwork for his final album, “Farewell”, I was honored.
For the album cover Billy requested a simple photo with his Taylor acoustic guitar. He sat down in my makeshift studio on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. As he picked away at blues scales and hummed melodies, we began to chat about his life as a musician. I asked him about his songwriting process. “All my songs start in my head,” he said grinning, “there’s a lot of room up there.” I laughed. Billy has a tremendous sense of humor. He’s always popping off one liners and cracking jokes. Its part of his charm. Billy has an amazing ability to connect with people. A talent that has served him well throughout his 21 years as a traveling minister.
“All my songs start in my head, there’s a lot of room up there.” -Billy Fields
From Maryland to California, Billy has traveled to 27 states and parts of Canada, playing music and telling his story. “I got into music because of the drugs,” he said bluntly, “I would play music and make money for drugs. Eventually it got so bad that one day I overdosed. I was laying in a hospital bed and I knew I had to make a change. I gave my life to God and everything changed. I was a new person. My wife Peggy thought I was having a mental breakdown. She didn’t believe me.” The three of us laughed. Throughout his career Billy has recorded 18 Gospel albums, written a book, and touched the lives of countless people.
“Within the multitude of councils there is safety. Listen to everyone, then make your own decisions.” -Billy Fields
I asked Billy what advice he would give to his 30 year old self. He answered with this,
“Consider the ant and be wise. Whether winter comes or not, the ant prepares. You will probably be 70 years old one day, get ready.” -Proverbs 6:6
Wrapping up the shoot, Billy asked if I played guitar. Yes I replied, I play. He handed me his guitar and I nervously strummed a few chords. I said I play, I didn’t say I was good. We laughed.
For more information on Billy, his sermons, his albums, and book visit:
Camera notes: The cover photo was shot using a Fujifilm X100t with a 35mm equivalent lens. A LumoPro LP180 was used to light Billy, using a 60″ convertible umbrella.