Glenn Thomas Settle was born near Nubbin Ridge in Rockingham County on October 10, 1894 to Rubin and Mary Settle. As a child, he moved with his family to Uniontown, Pennsylvania where he grew up and was educated. He began his religious career as an assistant pastor of Mount Haven Church in Elyria, Pennsylvania. In 1917 he married Mary Elizabeth Carter and they had three children.
In about 1920 he moved to Cleveland, Ohio and got work as a city clerk. He joined Gethsemane Baptist Church and became its pastor in 1935. In that same year he founded an a capella choir, “Wings Over Jordan” and within two years the choir began performing locally over WGAR, a CBS affiliate, on that station’s “Negro Hour.” Settle also began inviting notable African Americans to speak during the program. He viewed these broadcasts as an opportunity to spread “Negro spiritual” music to both the African American and White communities.
“People think that Negro spirituals and gospel music are the same thing,” says Teretha Settle, Rev. Settle’s granddaughter and still a member of the choir, “and they’re not. The Negro spirituals are songs of woe, and the gospels are songs of good news, of how the Lord has saved me, how I got over, how I got out.” Spreading Christianity was always one of Rev. Settle’s primary goals.
The choir’s success was such that by 1938 CBS decided to air its broadcasts nationally and the following year the choir was honored for outstanding radio series rendered by African Americans. In 1940 the choir toured the U.S., playing to sold out, fully integrated, audiences. Rev. Settle refused to have the choir perform before segregated audiences. The choir continued to perform weekly, sometimes daily, programs for WGAR and CBS over the following decade, as the first full-time professional black choir in the U.S.
At the height of its popularity, Wings Over Jordan Choir performed in 40 states, 5 European countries, Canada and Mexico. It gave performances at Carnegie Hall, the White House, and The Hollywood Bowl. During World War II, the choir entertained troops on several USO tours in Europe. During the 1940s and 1950s the choir often performed before crowds of 100,000 people. It produced a number of best-selling albums and won numerous honors, including radio’s prestigious Peabody Award.
Although Rev. Settle died July 16, 1967 in Los Angeles, Wings Over Jordan continues to perform.
Efforts by the MARC, and particularly Board member Charles Rodenbough and Joyce Anderson, resulted in the North Carolina Department of Transportation agreeing to place a Highway Historical Marker near Rev. Settle’s birthplace of Nubbin Ridge. On June 20, 2013, this son of Rockingham County was honored by the placement of the Highway Historical Marker at the intersection of Sandy Cross Road and North Carolina Highway 87.