Hymn Story: When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder

James Milton Black

James Milton Black

 

When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder was written by James Milton Black in 1893.

The story goes that when the time came to take roll in his Sunday School class, a little girl was absent. He’d met the fourteen year old girl one day and she touched his heart. He noticed that she was poorly dressed and realized she was a child of a drunkard. He invited her to attend the Sunday School and she accepted his invitation. One day when the roll was being taken she did not respond. This made him think about how heartbreaking it would be if someone wasn’t in heaven. After checking on the child he went home and searched the hymnal. Not finding a song on this subject, he wrote the hymn in less than fifteen minutes. He later reported that his wife noticed how he seemed deeply troubled when he returned home at the thought of someone not being in the Lamb’s Book of Life. After completing the lyrics, he sat at the piano and composed the tune, which is the same tune in the hymn book today.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

The missing girl had pneumonia and answered the “roll call” a short ten days after she took the fever.

The lyrics were first published in Songs of the Soul in 1894. They have been translated into over fourteen languages and sung around the world.

In 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stirred up controversy when asked when the Big Three {Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin} would meet. His response was published in the Winnipeg Free Press: “Mr. Churchill, in one of his somewhat puckish moods, replied that he did not know, but, he added irreverently, ‘When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.'”