Sunday, December 21, 2003

Cincinnati 101


Long-lost 'Miracle' is part of city's on-air heritage

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The city stopped when the man on the radio played "The Miracle of the Wheat." The man was Stan Matlock. He ruled Cincinnati's AM airwaves.

A holiday staple on Matlock's morning show, the recording of "The Miracle of the Wheat" was long out of print. So, when he'd play the tune, people would stop what they were doing to get it on tape.

It was 40 years ago. But Cincinnatians still remember that song and its Christmas message.

For the better part of a decade, oldies maven Dusty Rhodes has been fielding requests to play the song on his holiday radio shows. Hamilton County's record-spinning auditor has "never found a copy of the thing or even heard it."

Ed McCurdy recorded "The Miracle of the Wheat" in 1958.

The American folk singer delivers the lyrics in a robust baritone voice. Intoning every word, he sounds if he were Dickens' ghost of Christmas present.

The "Miracle" takes place on a farm "in Dakota" on a frigid Dec. 24. A farmer whose wheat crop has failed hears a knock at his door. Two travelers, "I am Joseph, with my good wife, and Mary is her name," need a place to stay. The farmer shows them to the barn. In the night, he hears an infant cry.

At dawn, he awakes to find a field of golden wheat. He runs to the barn to spread the news of the miracle. But the travelers are gone. They've left a Bible with a passage circled:

"Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

Ed McCurdy died in 2000. His widow, Beryl, has "not come across" the recording at her home in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Stan Matlock died in 2001 in Melbourne, Fla. His widow, Louise, has been unable to find his recording of "The Miracle."

Even the song's co-composer, Ervin Drake, doesn't own a copy.

"I have nothing here on file," Drake said from his Great Neck, N.Y., home.

Drake is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame for composing, among other things, the Frank Sinatra hit, "It was a Very Good Year," and Billie Holiday's classic, "Good Morning Heartache."

He penned "The Miracle" with collaborator, Jimmy Shirl. They copyrighted it in 1951.

"We were aiming for a song about Jesus' birth under different circumstances," Drake said. "We thought we had a good yarn."

Good yarn. But little commercial appeal. No one else recorded the piece. It became a lost song. Until now.

"The Miracle of the Wheat" turned up during a search of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts' Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound (www.nypl.org or (212) 870-1661).

Copies can be obtained - within strict guidelines - for around $33 per CD or $23 per cassette.

Often, when this type of search ends in success, the good fortune is attributed to hard work, serious sleuthing and luck. For this one, it also took a miracle.

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E-mail: cradel@enquirer.com




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