5,000 Songs – Or More!

It’s Friday and time to take a look at another gospel song.  As I thought back over the many gospel songs I grew up singing, I noticed how many had the same name listed as the author….Fanny Crosby.

Songs I have loved:

  • Blessed Assurance
  • To God Be the Glory
  • Rescue the Perishing
  • Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross
  • I Am Thine O Lord
  • Near the Cross

The list goes on and on.  I don’t think anyone knows exactly how many songs she wrote.  In my research I found articles giving numbers from 5,000 to 9,000.

For anyone to write so many songs – with so many becoming favorites – is amazing.  When you realize this woman was blind it is even more amazing.

Born in 1820 she became ill and a man who was later determined to be a quack prescribed hot mustard poultices for her eyes.  The treatment left her blind at just a few weeks old.  Shortly thereafter, her father died leaving her mother to support the family.  Fanny was then raised by her Christian grandmother.

She quickly showed signs of high intelligence, memorizing large portions of the Bible.  She had a positive attitude about her blindness, writing a poem at age eight expressing her outlook on life.

Oh, what a happy soul I am,
although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t,
To weep and sigh because I’m blind
I cannot, and I won’t!

Often asked how disappointing it must be to have been blind since a small baby, she replied:

“Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

She attended the New York Institute for the Blind in New York.  After 12 years as a student, she then became a teacher there for another 11 years.  She met her husband there, Alexander van Alstine.  An accomplished organist, he wrote the music to many of her hymns.  While she wrote the words to these many songs, she composed the music to only a few of them.  Rather, many musicians would bring their music to her and ask her to compose words to fit the music.

The contract she had with the music publisher require her to submit three hymns a week.  However, she usually wrote six or seven a day.  Writing that many songs naturally meant that many were simple, sentimental verses – but she did also compose music with a more classical structure.  When Dwight Moody began holding revivals in the late 1800’s with the musician Ira Sankey they introduced many of Fanny’s songs to the masses and from there they became popular.

Her songs were especially popular with the Methodist denomination and they used to hold an annual “Fanny Crosby Day.”

Today she has been all but forgotten by the modern church and as the last of the baby boomers die, her songs will probably be remembered no more.

But for those baby boomers who loved her songs here’s one of my favorite for you to enjoy.

Even a Sparrow Matters

It’s Friday and time for a post about another old gospel song.

I have shared several now and hope you have enjoyed them.

This week’s song is one of my husband’s favorites.  He has often performed this song in church services and at “gospel sings.”

The song starts with a question:

Why should I feel discouraged?  Why should the shadows come?  

The song quickly gives the answer:

His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

This thought is based on the scripture in Matthew 10:29-30

“Two sparrows sell for a farthing, don’t they? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. Never be afraid, then—you are far more valuable than sparrows.”

While this song was made famous by two different African-American singers,  Ethel Waters and Mahalia Jackson, it was written by a Canadian lady living in Elmira, New York.

In her own words:

“Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We developed a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle – true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh 20 years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair.  Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day, while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: ‘His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.’ The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The song ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’ was the outcome of that experience.”

Ethel Waters was born to a teenager who had been raped.  Although she was raised by her grandmother, she took the last name of her father.  She demonstrated her musical talents while very young, singing at the age of five at church.  On her 15th birthday she won an amateur night and began performing in vaudeville in 1917.

In 1953 she sang this song in the movie “Member of the Wedding” and brought the song to the attention of the world.  She loved the song “His Eye is On the Sparrow” and in her later years she often sang it for the Billy Graham crusades.

Mahalia Jackson made the song even more popular when she sang it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.  The song became associated with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.  Rev. Martin Luther King Jr said Mahalia did not just sing the song, it was her life story.

Mahalia spoke of the song and its meaning to her:

“When our savior came, now he didn’t come down here just to tell people to believe on him, he healed the sick and he healed the blind, he raised the dead. He did things for people. So salvation and the Word of God can do things for you. It can open doors for you. And I know it can, Studs. Look what it done for me. And my people have–we’re coming along, but my God, we’ve come along so slow till we chokin’.”

For my husband and I, the song has always been a comfort.  No matter what the circumstances of life, we can sing and find joy in the knowledge that God truly loves us and is aware of all we face each day.

 

My First Solo Performance

Continuing my posts on the old gospel songs we used to sing, today I remember the first song I ever performed in public.

As a young girl I took piano lessons and when my father, who was a minister, had speaking engagements he often would have me play and sing something before he spoke.  Although I was shy, I think this experience gave me confidence in appearing before an audience that helped me later as I became a speaker for women’s events and a pastor’s wife.

Just how good my voice and piano playing was remains open to question, but with my red hair in banana curls, I was a hit.

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The first song I learned to play was an old song born in the slave fields of  the southern states.  Although the original author of the spiritual is unknown, it is acknowledged that the song arose from the oral tradition of songs passed from person to person and generation to generation among the plantations of the South.

Imagine being a slave and totally at the mercy of the slave owner.  What kind of life could it be when you were forced to work from dawn to sunset?  When you could be beaten or sold to another slave owner without a chance to even say goodbye to your family?   No promise of freedom – how easy it would be to despair of life.

But somewhere in that life of sorrow and pain many slaves found hope in God.  In spite of their circumstances they clung to the belief that God was in control and they found courage in that belief.

They sang:

He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

The song was first published in 1927 in the hymnal Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New.  Later it was introduced in the USA and became popular with the folk song crowd in the 30’s and 40’s.

Laurie London, a young British singer, released the song in 1957.  It quickly became #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Since then many artists have made recordings of the song, but perhaps one of the most famous (and my favorite)  is Mahalia Jackson’s version.

The verses have changed depending on who was singing the song but this verse was not in my version of the song.  ♥

He’s got the gamblin’ man in His hands
He’s got the sinner man in His hands
He’s got the gamblin’ man in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

As I grew up and became more proficient in my music, I left that song behind.  But recently as I have played for the residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes, I have added it back to my selection of songs.

While they sit and listen to the songs I play – when I play this one I am guaranteed that many will join in with me and smiles will be in abundance.

Since I began singing this song again, I added my own verse for the senior citizens.

He’s got all us old folks in His hands
He’s got all us old folks in His hands
He’s got all us old folks  in His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  Psalms 19:1

“Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens.  Isaiah 48:13

But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.  Isaiah 64:8

Check out the other gospel songs I have written about here:

“My” Hymn – Great is Thy Faithfulness

From “You Are My Sunshine” to “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

Recognize This Beloved Song – “Faith’s Review and Expectations”

 

 

 

 

 

 

From “You Are My Sunshine” to “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”

Throughout our ministry my husband and I have always conducted services at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  Twice a month I now do a music recital at a nursing home.  One of the most requested songs we get from the “old folks” is always the song “In the Garden.”  It has also been one of the most requested songs for funerals we have conducted.

As this older generation passes away, I think this song will soon be forgotten.  I can’t imagine the younger crowd playing this song with the guitars and drums so popular now.  In fact, I have to laugh as I think what kind of music will be played for the boomers when we reach nursing home age.  Certainly the music will go from “You Are My Sunshine” to “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”  Hopefully we hear some Motown and Beach Boys too.

But I digress….Back to the Song “In the Garden.”

Although I have played this song for years I must confess I often wonder what garden the writer had in mind when he wrote this song and who was the person speaking these words.

Since I started this series on the history behind old gospel songs, I did some research and discovered that the author clearly had a particular garden and a particular person in mind when he wrote this song.

In his own words:

“One day in April 1912….I drew my Bible toward me and it opened at my favorite book and chapter, John chapter twenty….It was though I was in a trance, as I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life when she knelt before her Lord and cried, “Rabboni”….As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches. A woman in white, with head, bowed, hand clasping her throat, as if to choke back her sobs, walked slowly into the shadows. It was Mary. As she came unto the tomb, upon which she placed her hand, she bent over to look in and ran away….Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing there, so did I. I knew it was He. She knelt before Him, with arms outstretched, and looking into His face cried, “Rabboni”.

I’m not sure why the older generation loved this song so much.  Perhaps just the thought of walking with Jesus in a quiet restful garden was reassuring to those who lived through the  depression and World War II.  The thought of a loved one walking peacefully with Jesus after death was no doubt also a comfort.

There is a joke about this song I heard some years ago.

A little boy came home from church and had this conversation with his mother:

Boy:  Mom, in church today I learned what God’s name is.

Mother:  And what is his name?

Boy:  Andy

Mother:  Andy….who told you that?

Boy:  We sang a song “Andy walks with me and Andy talks with me.”

If you know the song, you understand the joke.

If you do not know the song, here it is.  Hope you enjoy both the old gospel song and the joke also.