Follow the Prophet

For a “cineminute” version of Duane telling the story of writing the song ‘Follow the Prophet’, click this link:

I get asked fairly frequently to speak to groups about how I came to write the song “Follow the Prophet.” This is an abbreviated version of what I tell them.

In 1987 I got a call from the general music committee of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They said, “We are putting together a new book of children’s songs for the Primary. We would like you to write a song for it. We would like three things: First it should be about the Old Testament prophets. Second we want it to sound like a Jewish folk song. Third, we want it to be a happy song that the children will want to sing.”

I had written other things for the Church including radio and television scripts, lyrics for a musical, The Spoken Word and other things for the Tabernacle Choir. I sometimes worked a little humor into some of these scripts. Maybe I overplayed my hand. I learned years later from a member of the committee that when my name was suggested to write the song, she said, “You mean Duane Hiatt who sang with The Three D’s?” They confirmed. She said, “He’s the funniest guy I know. How would we ever get it through the correlation committee?”

But I suppose the people doing the serious business of approving Church publications enjoy a chuckle now and then. The song didn’t survive correlation unscathed, but they were kind and gentle to it and to me.

However, first trying to squeeze the doings and teachings of Old Testament prophets into one song is sort of like engraving the Bible on the head of a pin; possible but not easy. Second, the Jewish folk song motif; not to worry, I write a Jewish folk song every morning before breakfast, sometimes two or three—not. But the big problem was writing a happy song. This was not a fun time in my life. Two weeks earlier Diane, my beloved wife of twenty-six years and mother of our fifteen children had died of cancer.

But I consider myself a professional able to go on stage or get the work out despite personal difficulties. More importantly I believe the Lord will magnify our abilities to accomplish his purposes. I prayed for help and he answered. He always does.

As I pondered the project I thought, “What would be the best message we could give the children concerning the Lord’s prophets?” I remembered a pioneer I had written about in a script many years before. His name was Stillman Pond. Driven out of Nauvoo and crossing the plains he lost his wife, and all but two of his eleven children to what they called, “chills and fever.” He himself became so sick he could only sit tipped sideways on his wagon seat. To drive his team he peered through a knot hole in the dashboard of the wagon. All he could see were the wagon tracks of those who had gone before him, including Brigham Young.

In my mind I can hear him saying, “I know God lives, but I am so sad, so sick, so weak. How can I go on? I will peer through this knot hole and step by step, I will follow the prophet.”

I said, “That’s it. That’s what I want to tell the children of the Church, and all of us. Follow the Prophet.”

Thus the Lord sustained me in this sad time of my life to write a little song. People tell me it does have the feel of a Jewish folk song. The children seem to enjoy singing it. People send me stories of children singing the song in many different conditions and languages all over the world, and ways it has helped them.

I believe that on our journey through life we will do well to follow the prophet, because as the song says, “He knows the way.”

Leave a Reply