Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lelia Naylor Morris

Lelia Naylor Morris (April 15, 1862 - July 25, 1929) was born in Ohio, the fifth of seven children. Her father was away from home at the time, fighting in the Union Army. After the Civil War, the family settled outside McConnelsville, OH where Lelia was to spend nearly her whole life.

She learned to play the piano as a child and always sang in the choir of the Methodist church her family attended. She married Charles Morris in 1881, and she with her husband continued to be active Methodists in the community. For many years she was the organist at the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the age of thirty, she attended a camp meeting in Maryland associated with the Holiness Movement, where, as she later recounted, "I opened my heart and let the Holy Spirit come in." After this, she felt that she had been given a gift to share, and she began writing gospel songs, both the words and the music. The choir director at Trinity Church encouraged her to meet with H. L. Gilmour, who was an established songwriter and publisher, and Gilmour helped Morris to get her earliest songs published.

She soon became quite successful, with her songs appearing in many hymnals (always credited during her lifetime as "Mrs. C.H. Morris"). She apparently wrote at least one thousand songs and hymns, though some estimates go even higher.

O magnify the Lord with me,
Sing praise with one glad voice.
Let all to whom God lendeth breath
In God's great Name rejoice.
For love’s blest revelation,
For rest from condemnation,
For uttermost salvation,
To God give thanks.

Let all the people praise thee.
Let all the people praise thee,
Let all the people praise thy Name
Forever and forevermore.

Praise God for blessed holiness,
For wisdom, and for grace;
Sing praises for the precious blood
Which saved the human race.
In tenderness God sought us;
From depths of woe God brought us;
The way of life God taught us.
To God give thanks.

Had I a thousand tongues to sing,
The half could ne’er be told
Of love so rich, so full and free,
Of blessings manifold;
Of grace that faileth never,
Peace flowing as a river
From God, the glorious Giver.
To God give thanks.

Lelia Naylor Morris, 1906; alt.
PRAISE FOREVER ( with refrain)

When Morris began to lose her sight at the age of 51, her son Will constructed a twenty-eight foot wide blackboard with musical staves so that she could continue her songwriting. Later, after she became completely blind, she dictated her compositions to her daughter Fanny, with whom she lived during the last year of her life.

There is now a historical marker honoring her outside the Methodist church in McConnelsville. In 1953, a brief biography of Morris was published, Singing At Her Work by Mary Ethel Weiss. Several of her gospel songs are still sung today.

P.S. This entry is a day late because I apparently made a typo in my notes and entered Morris's birthday on the 16th instead of the 15th.

One Year Ago: Ada Rose Gibbs


AuntE said...

The hymn you posted is one I grew up singing. I have not heard it for years, but still remember the tune vividly. Thank you for this!

Leland Bryant Ross said...

My experience is pretty much the opposite of AuntE's: I don't recall ever having sung this hymn in corporate worship, though I have hummed it to myself and wished I could get others to sing it with me. (I could, I just need to remember at the right time and have it with me!) It occurs only twice in the 33 hymnals I have indexed, once to a tune called People Praise (which I believe to be the same as what you call Praise Forever) in the 2001 New National Baptist Hymnal, which is where I first met it, and once (to a different, I think, tune that I have noted as "(Talmadge)" in Alfred B. Smith's Living Hymns). I think it's quite a wonderful song, and I don't care if I sing it as written or as altered, as long as I get to sing it sometime.

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

Do you have the sense that any of Morris's other songs are still widely used among the various strains of Baptists? Certainly there's a lot less of her material out there than there was 100 years ago (but that's true of most older popular hymnwriters).

Leland Bryant Ross said...

The only one we sing occasionally at Fremont Baptist is "What if it were today?".

Dorothy said...

I've never seen or heard this one before and I never heard of Lelia N. Morris either. That's exactly why I am a faithful reader of your blog, C.W.S. Thanks for the introduction to a lovely hymn.

Ebenezer Daramola said...

Thanks so much for this hymn. could you please tell me where I can get the song sheet for this hymn? I will really appreciate it. My email address is
Thanks and God bless

C.W.S. said...

You can go the the Cyber Hymnal site for this hymn and thousands of others. This one is at:

and click on the "PDF" link for a downloadable version.

Anonymous said...

There are over twenty of her songs in our hymnal. There are ten of her songs in the "Sing to the Lord" hymnal. We sing every one of the ten and I think everyone of the twenty in the "Praise and Worship" hymnal. The Music for "Let All The People Praise Thee" is in both of those hymnals.