Born AUGUST 18, 1856
Charles Gabriel. [PD-1923]
The Wilton, Iowa native, Charles Hutchinson Gabriel, is considered the most prolific writer of gospel music in the concluding years of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century. Skilled at penning both lyrics and music, Charles created hymns the world loved to sing; his songs became favorites in American churches, were introduced to other countries in revival campaigns, and were sung by soldiers on the battlefield. Charles’ name appeared on over 8,000 songs, many still sung today.
Charles grew up on a farm, but also in an environment rich in music. He frequently heard his father host singing sessions. By Charles’ early teens the family had both a reed organ and a piano, which he learned to play. One day Charles told his mother he wanted to grow up to be a songwriter. She encouraged him. In the next few years, he learned to compose music. In 1873, 18-year-old Charles left home to begin teaching singing.
He clearly surpassed his childhood goal. During his life, Charles wrote not only hymns but also cantatas and marches, and edited 159 songbooks. Along with 35 books for general singing, he edited songbooks specifically for male voices, female voices, and children’s voices.
His songs were lively, easy to sing, even fun. Let’s consider some of his best by looking at three songs for which he provided both words and music, then two to which he added only music.
WORDS AND MUSIC
“SEND THE LIGHT!” (1890)
Charles eventually moved to San Francisco, where he became the music director at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. When a song for a missions emphasis was needed, he wrote what has become a missions service standard: “Send the Light!”
Adoniram and Anne Judson taking the light of the gospel to Burma.
Verse one jumps right into the urgency to send missionaries to other countries: “There’s a call comes ringing o’er the rest-less waves, ‘Send the light! Send the light!’ There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save, Send the light! Send the Light!”
Verse three begins with a challenge to every person in the pew: “Let us pray that grace may everywhere abound.” The fourth verse starts with a scriptural admonition for God’s laborers every- where: “Let us not grow weary in the work of love” (Galatians 6:9).
“O THAT WILL BE GLORY” (1900)
Painting titled The Holy City. [PD-USA]
Ed Card, an enthusiastic Christian who ran a rescue mission in St. Louis, Missouri, inspired “O That Will be Glory.” Whenever Ed heard something in a sermon that rang true in is heart, instead of “Amen!,” he would call out “Glory!” When Ed prayed, he often included some statement about Heaven at the end and added, “That will be glory for me!”
Charles turned Ed’s excitement into a song that became one of the most popular hymns of the early 1900s. In the song’s first few years, Charles M. Alexander helped it become widely accepted. The husband of Helen Cadbury served as song leader for evangelist R. A . Torrey. Charles spread the joy of “The Glory Song” in revival campaigns that he and Mr. Torrey conducted in New Zealand, Japan, India, and the United Kingdom.
Recording of “The Glory Song.” [PD-1923]
Imagining the essence of arriving in Heaven, verse one states, “When all my labors and trials are o’er, And I am safe on that Heavenly shore, Just to be near the dear Lord I adore, Will through the ages be glory for me.” Every verse ends with the words, “Will through the ages be glory for me.” The chorus concludes with unbridled excitement in the words, “When by His grace I shall look on His face, That will be glory, be glory for me!”
“I STAND AMAZED” (aka “MY SAVIOUR’S LOVE”) (1905)
By 1905 Charles had moved to Chicago. One thing that traveled with him no matter where he lived was the impact of Jesus’ love for mankind. He eloquently expressed those thoughts and put them to music in the song “I Stand Amazed.”
The first verse introduces the hymn’s mind-boggling theme: “I stand amazed in the presence, Of Jesus the Nazarene, And I wonder how He could love me, A sinner condemned, unclean.”
Photo by Gerardofegan.
The next three verses review the extent of Jesus’ love. Here are verses two and four: “For me it was in the garden, He prayed, ‘Not My will, but Thine.’ He had no tears for His own griefs, But sweat drops of blood for mine;” “He took my sins and my sorrows, He made them His very own; He bore the burden to Calv’ry, And suffered and died alone.”
Like so many of Charles’ songs, it boasts a rousing chorus: “How marvelous! How wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!”
Charles became equally known for providing music to other people’s lyrics. Below are his best known music-only songs. I tell the stories behind two of them. For information about two of the other songs, follow the links to the posts about those who wrote them.
Charles added the music to “Higher Ground,” words by Johnson Oatman Jr. (1898); “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” written by Civilla D. Martin (1905); “The Way of the Cross Leads Home,” penned by Jessie Pounds (1906); “Just When I Need Him Most,” lyrics by William C. Poole (1907); “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?,” written by Ada R. Habershon (1907); “Brighten the Corner Where You Are,” words by Ina Duley Ogdon (1913); and “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart,” written by Rufus H. McDaniel (1914).
“HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW” (1905)
Photo by Steve K.
Civilla D. Martin sat at the side of a bedridden Christian friend. During her visit, she sang and read scriptures to the woman. Civilla asked her friend if she ever felt discouraged. She answered by referring to Matthew 6:26 and 10:31: “How can I be discouraged, when my Father watches the sparrows, and I know He loves and cares for me?”
Sensing instant inspiration, Civilla found a pencil and paper and worked the words into a poem. When she mailed it to Charles the next day, he added a tune with a slow, reflective tempo, then sent it to Charles M. Alexander. The song leader introduced it at Royal Albert Hall during the England phase of the Torrey-Alexander worldwide campaign.
In America, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” gained greater popularity after Ethel Waters sang it in the 1952 film The Member of the Wedding. She later used the phrase for the title of her autobiography. It has remained a favorite in African-American worship, continually popping up in surprising places like the 2014 Oscars broadcast.
“BRIGHTEN THE CORNER WHERE YOU ARE” (1913)
It’s the song that became an anthem for American soldiers in World War I.
Ina Duley Ogdon wrote the lyrics in response to limitations in her own life. She wanted to travel and share God’s word with others, but that dream screeched to a halt when her father had a stroke. While caring for her father, Ina wrote the words to encourage him.
World War I soldiers. [PD-1923]
When she sent her lyrics to Charles Gabriel, he added music and passed it on to Homer Rodeaver, Billy Sunday’s
song leader. The most famous evangelist of that day (also from Iowa) made “Brighten the Corner Where You Are” the theme song of his meetings. It sold a lot of sheet music and was recorded by many through the years. One of the greatest tributes to the song was its words rising from the lips of soldiers risking their lives in the first world war.
Charles also wrote “He Is So Precious to Me” (1902) and “Pentecostal Power” (1912). From 1912 on, he was associated with the Homer Rodeaver Publishing Company. It was there he compiled many of the voice-specific collections.
TWO OF IOWA’S BEST
In the early decades of the twentieth century thousands of Americas celebrated Iowa’s two best-known Christians of that day. They attended Billy Sunday’s revival services and sang Charles Gabriel’s latest gospel songs.
Since both were from Iowa and since Billy’s meetings often featured songs by Charles, it seemed natural that they would appear together. They did in 1914, in services Billy conducted in Des Moines, Iowa.
In 1926, Charles retired to California. He died at his son’s Hollywood home on Sept. 14, 1932. His ashes were interred at Los Angeles’ Chapel of the Pines.
LET ME KNOW: How has Charles’ story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Kerr, Phil. Music in Evangelism. Glendale, California: Gospel Music Publishers, 1939.
- Longden, Tom, “Famous Iowans: Charles Gabriel,” Des Moines Register, February 7, 2005, http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/99999999/FAMOUSIOWANS/501300335.
- Osbeck, Kenneth. 101 Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1982.
- Petersen, William J. and Ardyth Petersen. The Complete Book of Hymns. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.
YouTube- Search for each song title by name. A variety of famous and not as famous individuals have recorded them.