Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fanny Crosby

We have come around again to the birthday of Fanny Crosby, the prolific gospel song writer whose works continue to be loved and sung around the world. I've already written a fair amount about her which you can revisit by clicking on her name in the tags below this entry.

In her autobiography, Memories of Eighty Years, Crosby writes of her hymnwriting career with typical modesty:

That some of my hymns have been dictated by the blessed Holy Spirit I have no doubt; and that others have been the result of deep meditation I know to be true; but that the poet has any right to claim special merit for himself is certainly presumptuous.

But she surely know how deeply her work had touched so many people, as she recounts many stories told to her in letters and personal meetings. The writings of her contemporaries in the field also refer to many similar anecdotes from Fanny's admirers who were comforted, inspired, and brought to a closer relationship with God through her songs.

She was contracted by the publishing firm of Biglow & Main to produce three song texts per week but by all accounts she exceeded that number over the more than forty years she was associated with them, and even wrote for other publishers as well. Often she was given a theme to write on, and sometimes the music was given to her first, to set words for. Some of her most enduring songs were written this way (even though more "sophisticated" writers will tell you that that method doesn't work well), such as Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, Safe in the arms of Jesus, and even today's selection.

This song was first published in Bright Jewels for the Sunday School (1869) after composer William Howard Doane had played the music for her. A favorite of many, it's also well-suited for the season of Lent, I think.

Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.

In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star
Shed its beams around me.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadow o’er me.

Near the cross I’ll watch and wait
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I reach the heav'nly land,
Just beyond the river.

Fanny Crosby, 1869; alt.
NEAR THE CROSS ( with refrain)
William H. Doane, 1869

For many years it was a tradition of some of Fanny's friends and fellow writers and composers to write for her a poem on her birthday, and I've chosen some excerpted stanzas.

William J. Kirkpatrick, in 1887, began:

Dear Fanny, I would send a line
In warm congratulation;
And join the many friends that hail
Your birthday celebration.

Eliza Hewitt, in 1905, concluded with the stanza:

So we'll gather 'round our Fanny,
With smiles and greetings sincere,
May she have the sweetest birthday
She has had for many a year.

Some were more serious, such as Ira Sankey's 1893 offering:

A few more years to sing the song
Of our Redeemer's love,
Then by His grace both you and I
Will sing His praise above.

but Hubert P. Main was often more comic:

Still March the twenty-four comes 'round
In spite of earth or heaven,
And you keep coming also, too
For now you're seventy-seven.

It's in the tradition of these birthday tributes (particularly Mr. Main's) that we have another one today, which I first mentioned last year on William H. Doane's birthday when we heard another of his collaborations with Crosby, Pass me not, O gentle Savior. I hope you'll take it in the affectionate spirit in which it was intended.

Sing a song by Fanny Crosby
Ev’ry Sabbath day;
Pay no heed to those who claim that
She is déclassé.

Pastor, Pastor,
Hear my irate cry:
When you pick the hymns for Sunday,
Don’t pass Fanny by.

Gregory the Great is no saint
To good Protestants;
We’ve abandoned all his dogmas –
Why intone his chants?

Lutheran chorales are boring,
Lengthy and morose;
Fanny’s hymns are twice as peppy,
And half as verbose.

Calvinists transformed the Psalter
Into metric verse;
Though the texts may not be noble,
Yea, the tunes be worse.

Folk Mass music is atrocious,
Lacking tune and rhyme,
And they massacre the meter,
Cramming extra words in all the time.

J. Thomas Sopko, 1988
PASS ME NOT ( with refrain)
William H. Doane, 1870
Text © 1988 J. Thomas Sopko.
Used by permission

Thanks to Tom for his light-hearted tribute to Fanny Crosby and her songs.

One Year Ago: Fanny Crosby

Another Birthday Today: Jennette Threlfall


Kittredge Cherry said...

Happy Fanny Crosby Day! Thanks for sharing the affectionate tribute at the end. The chorus is unforgettable, as I still remember it from some 20 years ago:

Pastor, Pastor, hear my irate cry:
When you pick the hymns for Sunday, don't pass Fanny by.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Okay, the probable order of singing at this coming Sunday's hymn-sing "To God Be the Glory!" is now on my blog. Wish you all could be here!

Leland aka Haruo