The Life and Sounds of John Lundberg

Photo courtesy of the Westmont Archives

Westmont lost its longtime maestro when John Lundberg died Sept. 13, 2006, at the age of 90. A tenor, choral conductor, college professor and businessman, he left an impressive musical legacy at the college he served for 32 years.

“Westmont is clearly a different place today because of John Lundberg,” said Chancellor David Winter at Lundberg’s memorial service. “And hundreds, probably thousands, of men and women are different people because of his impact on their lives. Like no one else I have ever known, John embodied music at Westmont and a deep commitment to personal faith in Christ. He was not simply an evangelical, he was an evangelist. He did it through music, but he also did it in his conversation. You couldn’t be with him very long without hearing something about the importance, the central place, of his own personal Christian faith.”

Winter noted Lundberg’s energy and intensity and his impressive stewardship of his abilities. “He saw an opportunity to do something at Westmont, and he threw himself into it with all those special gifts that he had.”

A graduate of the University of Washington, Lundberg taught for three years at Seattle Pacific College before leaving to focus on solo work. When he accepted a position at Westmont in 1947, he moved his wife, Barbara, pregnant with their third child, to Santa Barbara for a job that paid $200 a month for 10 months. In the summer, the family returned to Washington where Lundberg painted houses. The couple put up with substandard housing (including a year in Deane Hall, a building designed for classrooms) to be part of the Westmont community.

Photo courtesy of the Westmont Archives

On his first visit to campus, Lundberg sang a solo in chapel. John Hubbard asked for “Shadrach,” an upbeat spiritual that Lundberg performed only at high school assemblies. “It was kind of a raucous thing,” he said. “But it practically brought the house down.” He then led the students in prayer. Later he learned that Professor Gracie King had said, “When I heard that ‘Shadrach,’ I wondered about this young man. But when I heard him pray I figured everything was all right.”

Lundberg taught voice and led the Westmont Quartet. When John Hubbard left in 1963, he also assumed direction of the Westmont College Choir, arranging the music his groups performed and doing most of the scheduling.

During the 22 years he directed the quartet, Lundberg played a crucial role in recruiting students and presenting the college —and the gospel. The group toured during the school year as well as the summer and sang every Sunday morning and evening throughout the country. The men appeared on TV, in churches, at banquets and for Billy Graham crusades.

Beginning in 1951, Lundberg sang first tenor with one of the best quartets of the time, the Charles E. Fuller Old Fashioned Revival Hour quartet. More than 700 stations carried the weekly show on Sunday, which reached over 90 percent of the world. For several years, the group performed live for a daily 7:30 a.m. radio broadcast at Country Church in Hollywood. Lundberg lived in Encino and commuted to Westmont several days a week to teach. “I almost quit the college because it was so taxing,” he said. “But I really felt the call of God to be there in the first place, even with the low salaries that we had. I didn’t want to leave, so I didn’t.”

Lundberg made his career in higher education, earning a master’s degree and a doctorate of musical arts from the University of Southern California. Accustomed to supplementing his meager income in the early years, he channeled his energy into becoming a successful real estate agent and businessman.

“John Lundberg made us better people, better musicians, and, most of all, better Christians,” said Paul Sjolund ’59 at Lundberg’s memorial service. “I could think of nothing more wonderful than to study with a great mentor and teacher like John Lundberg. The voice we grieved about: Why weren’t we born with a voice a tenth as beautiful as that?” Sjolund described his relationship with Lundberg as a “lifelong conversation. Throughout the years I have been constantly challenged by his unshakable devotion to Christ.” An internationally known composer, Sjolund has worked extensively in film, television and the recording industry. “None of it was half as much fun as one rehearsal with Lundberg,” he said.

Photo courtesy of the Westmont Archives

Dale Myers ’57 also remembered his former teacher. “John was gifted with one of those effortless, soaring tenor voices that could melt your heart and lift your very soul to heaven,” he said. “One thing is for sure: if the sound was quartet harmony, John Lundberg had few peers in the history of the genre. It was a sound that could be virile and muscular in one moment, warm and tender in the next, but always balanced, disciplined and crisp. How fortunate we were to be his students.”

According to his family, Lundberg was an ambassador for Jesus Christ above almost anything else. “Music is only a vehicle through which the text of the gospel is heard,” Lundberg said. “The text is everything.”

His wife of 66 years, Barbara Lundberg ’72, survives him, as do two sons, Paul ’64 of Merced, Calif., and Cliff ’65 of Santa Barbara, and two daughters, Janice Ward ’69 of Buellton, Calif., and Barbara Carr ’72 of Middletown Springs, Vt. The Lundbergs have 14 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Former students and friends can remember Lundberg by making gifts to Westmont for student scholarships in music.

Photos of Dr. Lundberg appear courtesy of the Westmont Archives.

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