Behind the Hymn: I Will Sing of My Redeemer
God tells us that he will use our trials and tragedies for his good. I Will Sing of My
Redeemer was born of tragedy, but had the lasting effect of good.
I Will Sing of My Redeemer was written by Philip Paul Bliss was an American conductor, composer, Gospel singer and hymn writer.
Philip Bliss was born on July 9, 1838 in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. Philip developed his love for music and singing from his father, Isaac Bliss.
He was taught and inspired by J.G. Towner and William B. Bradbury, both well known hymn writers. In 1858, Bliss sold his first musical composition, which was for the flute.
On June 1, 1859, he married Lucy J. Young. The couple eventually moved to Chicago, where he became known for his bass-baritone voice and as a music teacher. In 1869, he formed an association with evangelists Dwight L. Moody, who urged him to become a missionary singer.
In 1874, the Bliss’ began full time evangelism to “win souls” for Christ.
Bliss wrote Hold the Fort, Almost Persuaded; Hallelujah, What a Saviour!; Let the Lower Lights Be Burning; and Wonderful Words of Life among other songs. He also wrote the tune for Horatio Spafford’s hit, It Is Well With My Soul.
While ministering at a meeting in Chicago, Bliss spoke these words to the congregation: I may not pass this way again, after which he sang, I’m Going Home Tomorrow. His words and song would prove to be prophetic.
A short time later, on a planned return to Chicago, disaster struck. It was a few days after
Christmas and the Bliss’ left their four year old and one year old sons with family in Rome, Pennsylvania.
On December 29, 1876, Philip and Lucy Bliss were traveling through Ashtabula, Ohio on the Pacific Express train to an engagement in Chicago. While the train was in the process of crossing a trestle bridge, which collapsed, all seven carriages fell into the icy ravine below. Bliss survived the fall and escaped from the wreck, but the carriages caught fire and Bliss returned to try to extricate his wife.
“Although he was advised against it, Bliss headed back into the fire, saying: “If I cannot
save her, I will perish with her.” The young couple did not survive. “
“ No trace of either body was discovered. Ninety-two of the 159 passengers are believed to have died in what became known as the Ashtabula River Railroad Disaster.”
Most of the cargo was burned but a few remains were retrieved from the accident site.
“Found in his trunk, which somehow survived the crash and fire, was a manuscript bearing the lyrics of the only well-known Bliss Gospel song for which he did not write a tune.” The lyrics found were titled “My Redeemer”.
Soon thereafter, set to a tune specially written for it by James McGranahan, it became one of the first songs recorded by Thomas Alva Edison, that song being I Will Sing of My Redeemer.”
According to George C. Stebbins in Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories, “before James McGranahan’s leaving Chicago, it was decided to have it sung in the tabernacle services, and also that it would be well to have it sung by four men’s voices. The music was arranged accordingly and two of the most prominent baritone soloists of the city were secured, they singing the lower parts, Mr. McGranahan taking the alto an octave higher and I the melody. A great audience was present in the tabernacle. The major related the finding of the words among Mr. Bliss’s effects, and Mr. Granahan’s setting them to music; which awakened a keen interest among the people, thus preparing the way for a sympathetic hearing.”
I Will Sing of My Redeemer became one of first, if not the first hymn, to be recorded on the phonograph, which was recorded by George C. Stebbins. “Some months after this, Stebbins told of “making a record” in New York City where an Edison phonograph was being exhibited. He sang “My Redeemer” making it one of the first songs recorded on Edison’s new invention.”
The Bliss’ were survived by their two young sons, who were staying with their grandparents at the time of the accident.
I Will Sing of My Redeemer was probably the last song that Bliss penned before this tragedy took place, however against all odds the song survived and grew in popularity. I Will Sing of My Redeemer is Philip Bliss’ best known and loved hymn.