Word Records was founded in Waco, Texas in 1951 by Jarrell McCracken. The label's name is based on a recording by McCracken, the first recording by the label, of a fictitious American football match held at the "Great Stadium of Life," known as the Game of Life. The 23-year old KWTX sportscaster in Waco, TX, read an article by Jimmy Allen, a former athlete who became a Baptist preacher, and based his recording on the article which also is called "The Game of Life". The event is based on a full length match between the forces of Good and Evil with Jesus Christ and Satan coaching the two teams. McCracken was familiar with play-by-play broadcasting, having created virtual baseball games for radio broadcast based on wire reports. McCracken originally presented his "The Game of Life" presentation on Sunday nights at various churches around the central Texas area. Everywhere he presented "The Game," he got requests for copies. Eventually, he had a short run of records pressed to offer at the churches that he visited. The fictional radio station in the recording has the call letters "WORD," so that was printed on the label of the custom record. Several months after he had begun distributing his record, a friend asked, "so when are you going to have your next release on your WORD record label?" It hadn't occurred to Jarrell that he had created a label, but he had.
Subsequent records focused on other spoken word recordings, but he soon branched out into gospel music, including George Beverly Shea and Baylor Religious Hour Choir. Early employees included Kurt Kaiser and Ralph Carmichael.
The label struggled initially, and Marvin Norcross became an equity partner early in the label's beginnings. Word was both a publishing house and a record label by the 1954.
Several subsidiary labels were started over the years: Canaan Records in the sixties, Myrrh Records (1972) and DaySpring Records in the seventies, Home Sweet Home Records and Rejoice Records in the eighties. Two of these labels no longer exist today in their original form. The Myrrh Label was resurrected in 2005 as a praise and worship record label: Myrrh Worship. Canaan Records was also re-opened in early 2007 with Dave Clark at the helm. Home Sweet Home Records is still active and remains under the independent ownership of its founder Chris Christian.
In the 1976, McCracken sold part interest in his label to the American Broadcasting Company. Ten years later, ABC merged with Capitol Cities, Inc. and forced McCracken out of the company.
In 1992, Capital Cities ABC sold Word to Thomas Nelson, Inc., and Nelson made two major changes -- developing the present swirling W logo for book products which was unveiled in 1995, and also moving its headquarters from Waco, Texas, to its present headquarters in Nashville. Nelson split the record label and book publishing arms in 1996 when the labels were sold to Gaylord Entertainment. In an agreement with Gaylord, Thomas Nelson continued to use the "Word Publishing" name for its book imprint until 2002, at which time it became "W Publishing Group" and retained the swirling W logo. A highly controversial ad campaign introduced at the CBA convention in 2002 created litigation, settled later.
After Colin Reed took over Gaylord Entertainment in 2001, the hotelier made corporate changes at the company, including the ousting of longstanding president Roland Lundy, and sold off the Word Entertainment group to then-AOL Time Warner in 2002. In 2002, former Atlantic Records Christian division manager Barry Landis briefly took the position of president of the label group division. Word went through a period of restructuring, closing their Los Angeles music publishing office, absorbing Myrrh Records, Squint Entertainment, and Everland Entertainment into the Word Label Group, and reducing in-house staff. Curb Records also gained a stake in the company during this time. In 2004, the company was sold again as part of Time Warner divestiture of its music division, selling it to a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman to form a newly independent Warner Music Group.