Church pianist's 73-year career earns her a Guinness World Record
Here’s how long it’s been since Martha Godwin became the official pianist at Macedonia United Methodist Church.
“Victory In Jesus,” a well-known standard of the Christian faith — and one of Godwin’s favorite hymns — was relatively unknown, a mere babe in the vast world of hymnology. The ink was barely dry on the sheet music.
“I was 13 years old when I started at the church,” recalls Godwin, who took over the pianist duties in April 1940 and held the job for an astounding 73 years — long enough to earn the Davidson County woman a Guinness World Record for the longest career as a church pianist/organist at the same church.
A framed certificate from Guinness that describes Godwin’s world-record feat — and declares her to be “Officially Amazing” — hangs on a wall at the church, which is located in the Southmont community.
“I’m really not that great an organist — the Lord just let me live a long time,” Godwin, 87, says with a chuckle.
Godwin took over the role after the church’s regular pianist became very ill with cancer. The young teen had been playing the piano since age 5, but she wasn’t so sure she was ready for a fulltime gig like the one at her church.
“I was scared to death,” she says of her first Sunday-morning service. “I played ‘Wonderful Words of Life,’ and it has a first and second ending. I played both and began to play through again because it didn’t sound right. We stopped and then started over. It was the most I have ever been embarrassed.”
Seventy-three years later, Godwin has played at approximately 4,000 worship services — not to mention hundreds of weddings and funerals at the church — in addition to countless practice hours that have added up over the decades.
“And I still get nervous,” she says. “I get a little jittery.”
You can’t tell it, though. Even at 87 — and regardless of whether she’s playing the piano or the organ — the clinkers that come from her fingers are few.
As humble as Godwin is, she clearly wasn’t the one who came up with the idea of pursuing a Guinness World Record. That distinction goes to her brother, Tommy Hedrick. At a reception celebrating Godwin’s 70th year as church pianist, Hedrick pointed out that the official record was only 69 years — a record his sister had already surpassed.
“We ought to nominate her for the world record,” he said to nobody in particular.
The idea fizzled until about a year ago, when fellow church member Evelyn Parks — with the assistance of a few others — took up the cause.
“I got in touch with Guinness World Records, and they sent an email back saying Martha would have the record if we could get supporting evidence,” Parks says. “They had to have letters from people who could verify she had been playing that long at the church, but you know, there are very few people left who were around when she started playing.”
She ended up finding two individuals who could vouch for Godwin’s accomplishment. She also included a letter from Godwin’s cousin, Michael Surratt, who remembered watching her play the organ when he was a small boy — and whom she inspired to become an accomplished organist himself.
The package went in the mail, and Godwin was on her way to becoming a world record-holder.
“I was very happy for her, because she’s such a wonderful person,” Parks says. “For all those years, she played almost every Sunday, she played at choir practices, special services, weddings and funerals. She was really faithful.”
Godwin is no longer the church’s fulltime pianist/organist, instead sharing those duties now with two other musicians. In the meantime, she and her husband Allan — who grew up in High Point — recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary, and she’s been recovering from a broken hip that has kept her from playing at the church for about six months.
Nonetheless, she’s thrilled to be a world record-holder now, an honor she describes as humbling.
“I just grew old doing what I like to do,” she says. “The Lord has been good to me, and it’s one way I can praise Him.”
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