Known for being Grand Rapids’ first TV singing cowboy.
Christian singer-songwriter Ray Overholt dies at 84
on September 16, 2008 at 3:13 PM, updated September 17, 2008 at 11:56 AM
BATTLE CREEK — Christian singer-songwriter Ray Overholt was “all dressed up” Sunday to make the trip from his Battle Creek home to Grand Rapids, where he was scheduled to perform a concert at Faith Reformed Church in Wyoming.
“Isn’t that incredible? He never wanted to stop,” Becky Davis said of her 84-year-old grandfather. “When it was time to sing, he was raring to go. You put him on that stage, and he’d just come to life.”
Overholt, known for being Grand Rapids’ first TV singing cowboy, died Sunday as he was getting into the van for his Grand Rapids concert. It is assumed heart failure was the cause.
The Gaines Township native had a budding career as a Grand Rapids-area cowboy-country music singer in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He had a country-western-style radio program and a TV show, “Ray’s Roundup,” on WOOD-TV from 1948 to 1952 that included guests Stewart Hamlin and Ray Price.
His music has been recorded by at least 100 artists, including Kate Smith, Loretta Lynn and Janie Fricke. But in 1958, Overholt hung up his cowboy hat when a conversion to Christianity redirected his life and mission.
Since that time, Overholt composed award-winning gospel music that he performed with his wife, Millie, for years.
His most successful songs include “Ten Thousand Angels,” which sold 1 million copies by the 1970s, and “Hallelujah Square,” nominated for three Gospel Music Association Dove Awards in consecutive years.
He was a member of the Michigan Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame and was inducted into Michigan Country Music Hall of Fame.
“You know what’s interesting, too, his voice stayed strong,” Davis said. “He was on pitch to the very end.”
Several years ago, Overholt suffered a heart attack, underwent triple bypass surgery, suffered from blindness and complications from the heart attack, including the loss of one leg.
Millie, his wife of 52 years, would take him to every concert, where she would sing and play keyboard.
Her nephew, Denny Crumb, would play guitar with them in recent years. Son Ron sang with his parents for about 20 years.
“He did love his ministry,” Millie said. “We always enjoyed going everywhere he was sent. … He was always a happy person. He always said he wanted to sing until he came home, and he did that.”
Described as a compassionate human and family man, Overholt remained humble no matter how big his music got or how many awards he won, said his son, Ron. “He loved what he did. He loved people.”
“He was just the type of man (where) you felt you knew him your whole life,” Ron said.
Overholt is survived by his wife, Millie, 78; son Ron Overholt; brothers Roger (wife Loretta) and Don Overholt (wife Bernie); sister Lucy Long (husband Wen); three grandchildren, including Becky Davis (husband Travis), Tony Overholt (wife Sue), Ron Gorman (wife Melissa); five great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
Visitation is 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Richard A. Henry Funeral Home, 703 Capital Ave. SW, in Battle Creek. Services are 11 a.m. Friday at First Assembly of God Church, 800 S. 24th St., also in Battle Creek, where granddaughter Becky’s husband, Pastor Travis Davis, of Family Altar Chapel in Battle Creek, will officiate.