Friday, February 26, 2016

George C. Stebbins

Evangelist and gospel song composer George Coles Stebbins was born today in 1846 on a farm in upstate New York. He moved to Chicago as a young man and became the organist at the First Baptist Church in 1870.  While in Chicago he met Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey, as well as some of the other song writers that contributed to the Moody-Sankey revivals. 

Five years later he moved to Boston where he worked at more churches, including the Tremont Temple Baptist Church. When Stebbins encountered Dwight Moody again, the noted evangelist persuaded him to join the Moody-Sankey organization as a soloist, to lead the choir, and write songs, first in Chicago and later on various tours, traveling to Europe, India,  and the Middle East in addition to trips inside the US.  He was also one of the editors of Sankey's popular Gospel Hymns (first published in 1875 but proceeding through many subsequent editions) and other collections sponsored by Moody, including the Northfield Hymnal (1904).  He was also associated with YMCA conventions and other large religious gatherings where he led the music.

He retired from evangelistic work in 1908 when his hearing began to fail, but continued his composing and editing. In 1924 he published Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories, a book containing biographical sketches of many of the song writers and composers he had worked with over his career.  He had composed tunes for most of the major text writers of the day, including (of course) Fanny Crosby.  Today's song is one of their collaborations (with an added stanza from me).

Gather them in! for yet there is room
At the feast that our God has spread;
O gather them in! let this house be filled,
And the hungry and poor be fed.

Out in the highway, out in the byway,
Out to the far and the near,
Go forth, go forth, with a loving heart,
And gather the wanderers here!

Gather them in! for yet there is room
For the downtrodden in despair;
O gather them in! we will love them all;
For the outcasts a place prepare.

Gather them in! for yet there is room;
’Tis a message from God above;
O gather them into the fold of grace,
And the arms of the Savior’s love.

Fanny Crosby, 1883; alt.; st. 2 CWS, 2016
Tune: GATHER THEM IN (Irregular with refrain)
George C. Stebbins, 1883

Stebbins lived to the age of 99 and reportedly continued to compose songs nearly to the end of his life. His son, George Waring Stebbins (1869-1930), was also a musician and an organist in New York City, but composed far fewer works.

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