Thursday, March 28, 2024

                                               TO GOD BE ALL THE PRAISE & GLORY!                   

                                              Harry Rusk: An Instrument in God's hands!

                                   THE STORY OF HARRY RUSK


From a boy who was in a hospital for terminally ill patients to a country singer in Nashville, Tennessee, this is the story of Harry Rusk.  This is a walk through of Harry’s life, dealing with discrimination and overcoming the boundary of race.  We will talk about the way Harry Rusk used music and his voice to bring healing and the wisdom we can find in it.

Background and history of Harry Rusk:

Harry Rusk was born in Kahntah Slavey nation, 70 miles east of Fort Nelson on a trap-line and spoke Slavey language (now called Dene).  At age 11, he ended up in the Charles Camsell Indian Hospital in Edmonton with Tuberculosis.  People who end up in this hospital would spend months or even years, and a majority of them would die.  He was a fan of Hank Snow when Hank wrote the song “I’m Moving On.”

Hank Snow’s song “I’m Moving On” became number one on the country charts when Harry was in the hospital in 1949 - 1953.  In 1952 when Hank Snow did a show in Edmonton the nurses got him to come to the hospital.  Hank left a deep impression on Harry, so much so that his mom saved up her money to buy and send him a guitar.

After 4 years of his stay in the hospital, Harry Rusk miraculously made it out alive.  He learned Hank Snow’s music from a gramophone.  In 1966 Harry got his first television break with Gaby Haas on the Noon Show on CFRN CTV.  Then Harry attended a Hank Snow show and shared with Hank how Hank had inspired him to become a country music singer and guitar player.  Then Harry also shared with Hank that he wanted to record.  Upon that note, Hank advised Harry to send him his recording when that happened.  Then on June 13, 1972, which was 20 years after his visit in the hospital, Hank invited Harry to be on the Grand Ole Opry with him on June 30, 1972.  This started numerous appearances on the Opry for the next 22 years and opened many doors for Harry in the USA, and many other countries such as Norway, Poland, Israel, Mexico, etc.

Now moving on later in life he has many stories of the discrimination he has encountered.  These 2 stories are just a fraction of what he has faced in his life.  When he was leaving the drugstore in Edmonton, 2 police officers grabbed him by his arms and pinned him to a wall telling him to empty his pockets because they believed he stole something because he is Indigenous.  His friend Omar and he pleaded that they should be able to ask the lady at the till to prove they didn’t steal anything.  The lady at the till concurred with their story and the police officers let them go.  The fact that they were accused of stealing solely based on race is unjust.  Another story Harry Rusk has is when he walked into a café in Edmonton with friends of his.  He was told to leave the restaurant because they didn’t serve Indigenous people.  The cook who was kicking them out noticed that Harry Rusk was a famous country singer and gave him the exception to stay.  Harry chose not to stay and joined his friends in another nearby café.

What is Harry most known for and what great achievements:

Harry Rusk is most known for his debut at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee performing alongside Hank Snow.  He play the Don Messer Show, Country Time, the Noon Show and many other famous T.V. outlets.  Harry Rusk did shows in Hawaii during the Vietnam War, and also performed in various shows with his wife Gladys during the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Highway.  Rusk has recorded 55 albums and sold over 2 million records.  To name a few, My Northern Memories, Rose of Mexico, Red Man and the Train plus others.  Harry Rusk has met many influential people throughout his years as a country singer.  Some of these people include Hank Snow, Johnny Cash, George Foreman, a 2-time heavy-weight champion, and many other musicians and notable people.

What skills does he possess that help him effectively bring healing:

Harry switched to Gospel music and took ministerial training at ORU, Oklahoma.  He relied on the Holy Spirit for correct spiritual guidance.  Harry was a big influence in breaking the barrier between Indigenous and white people.  He was the first full Indigenous musician on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry and was treated equally.  The Americans loved him and vice versa.  Harry Rusk says that there has been a lot of discrimination towards him and his people.  He remembers seeing many Indigenous people quit because they were scared to stand up for their rights, and also some getting fired when they were innocent.  Harry’s story of perseverance through discrimination and getting his voice heard can be a big inspiration to other Indigenous people to get their stories heard and help bring peace and healing.  Harry gives all the glory to the Lord for all his positive achievements.

What wisdom can we find from Harry’s life that we can apply in our own lives moving forward:

There was a story that Harry Rusk told me in a personal telephone interview about a man who died and they prayed for him.  He was dead for 9 minutes and he came back to life.  The faith that Harry and others around him had was strong, and God answered their prayers.  If we can have this strong faith in God and reliance on him in our day to day lives, we can see miracles happen. 

Another story of how we can learn from Rusk’s life is when he got shot at and had to hide in the bush for 2 days.  He learned to forgive and helped these same people, showing the love that Jesus had for others and being a good example.  Although we all have times when we are under fire and persecuted you should always return it with love and kindness.  We will not grow individually and as a community if we return anger with anger.  Even through all his toils he would pray for his enemies.  “One of the prayers was that God would bless them with good health, peace, joys and happiness, with their families, loved ones, friends and neighbours, that He would give them better wages, promotions, whatever they were seeking, yet didn’t seem to find.” 

Rusk also says in his book, “No matter what they threw at me maliciously, I returned it all with kindness.”


To conclude, Harry Rusk was quite the influence not only in music, but also by showing others that you can stand up to prejudice and yet your voice heard.  Harry Rusk is the perfect example of an underdog story because he grew up on a trap-line in Northern B.C. and made it to the big stage in Tenessee and played with the top country artists of his generation.

In closing, Harry has 5 children that he’s thankful for, and here’s one for Fort Nelson.  Harry was the first to be inducted into the North American Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006.  To all of this Harry says, “I give all the praise and glory to the living Son of God, Jesus.”


Written by a grade 12 school student,
Joel Lorensen – Abottsford, B.C.

                              Harry & Gladys Rusk at House of Prayer, New Sarepta, AB