Behind the Song: I’ll Be a Sunbeam

I’ll Be a Sunbeam is a popular children’s hymn often learned in Sunday School. The song is often referred to as Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, due to the opening lines of the hymn.

The lyrics were written by Nellie Talbot. Virtually nothing is known about Nellie Talbot. Even efforts to find her in census records prove to be nothing but speculative.

The music was composed by Edwin O. Excell in 1900. He published the hymn in 1905 in

We can all be a sunbeam for Jesus regardless of our age

We can all be a sunbeam for Jesus regardless of our age

his Praises hymn book. The hymn was published three more times in various hymnals by 1923.

Edwin Othello Excell was a publisher, song leader, composer, and musician. He was born in 1851 Ohio and died in 1921 Illinois.

His arrangement and stanza selection of Amazing Grace is the widely used version we still use today.

He contributed to more than 90 different song books {both secular and sacred} and is believed to have written over 2,000 songs.

Edwin Excell began his own publishing company in 1881 and by the time of his death it was the “highest volume producer of hymnbooks in America”.

According to Wikipedia, “The influence of his sacred music on American popular culture through revival meetings, religious conventions, circuit chautauquas, and church hymnals was substantial enough by the 1920s to garner a satirical reference bySinclair Lewis in the novel Elmer Gantry.”

This children’s song is now part of the public domain.


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