Composer George Frederick Root was born today in 1820. Musical from an early age, he studied with George Webb, and later worked with Lowell Mason, probably the best-known hymn tune composer in America at that time.
As an instructor at Mason's Boston Academy of Music, he began his composing career with simple pieces for his students, often writing both words and music for his songs and choral pieces. In 1848 he collaborated with Fanny Crosby on a simple cantata called The Flower Queen. They would go on to write several more pieces together, both secular and sacred.
During the Civil War he wrote several songs that were much in demand, including The Battle Cry of Freedom. Publishers had trouble keeping up with the orders for the sheet music, and a southern poet appropriated the tune and wrote a Confederate version for the other side to sing. Root edited a number of collections of songs, anthems, and hymns, all containing many of his compositions (The Sabbath Bell and others are available online). You can hear quite a few of them at this page.
Root's hymns and gospel songs were apparently very popular, appearing in dozens of American hymnals of the late nineteenth century, but they mostly faded out in the twentieth. This is one that I like, based on a story of Jesus' healing from Matthew 9:18-26.
She only touched the hem of his garment
As to his side she stole,
Amid the crowd that gathered around him,
And straightway she was whole.
Oh, touch the hem of Christ's garment!
And thou, too, shalt be free!
That saving power this very hour
Shall give new life to thee!
She came in fear and trembling before him,
She knew the Christ had come;
She felt that from him virtue had healed her,
The mighty deed was done.
He turned with “Daughter, be of good comfort,
Thy faith hath made thee whole!”
And peace that passeth all understanding
With gladness filled her soul.
George F. Root, 19th c.; alt.
Tune: GARMENT'S HEM (10.6.10.6. with refrain)
George F. Root, 19th c.
Not wholly forgotten, George Root was inducted into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, though perhaps more for The Battle Cry of Freedom than for his hymns.